Archive for the ‘BlogTech’ Category


July 28th, 2008 1 comment
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Using WordPress for iPhone

July 23rd, 2008 1 comment

Org-IphonebuttonIt seems to work just fine; the last three posts were made using the iPhone. You can easily sign in to your blog, get the last x-number of posts (default is 30), edit posts, and make new ones. When you make a new one, you enter the title, decide a category and tags, and then tap out the post. You add pictures from the library or by snapping a photo on the spot, adding as many photos as you like.

Down points: typing in HTML commands is laborious because of all the special characters, like angled brackets; however, you can type those in first, then add the text part using the loupe tool.

Photo preview leaves something to be desired; you can’t pinch or rotate to see the whole image before posting it, you only get a general idea unless the image is naturally in portrait mode, and even then you can’t zoom for detail from within the app. Not can you crop the image, which is a big problem as the iPhone camera doesn’t zoom.

When you add photos, you can’t place them where you want them–they get tacked on to the end of the post. This can be worked around by posting the images first, then editing the post (which has the HTML for the images), placing text around the images. When editing, you can add more photos (only to the new end of the post).

The images are of a pre-set size, 300 pixels wide in landscape mode. The workaround: the actual image is 640 x 480, and you can post-edit to change the image size relatively easily.

You also have to have your images placed in the default location–I had mine place in a special location, and the images did not appear in my first tests.

All of these are relatively minor nits, and as stated, most have relatively easy workarounds. As you could see from the most recent post before this one, I was able to liveblog pretty handily, and it worked just fine. This is also version-1 software, so there are bound to be several rough spots. So overall, I would say this is pretty nice software, and I’ll use it fairly often. Expect me to blog on the road a lot more from now on.

Future feature needs: a menu to insert HTML commands, better image management (cropping and choice of image size would be big improvements), and access to comments.

Categories: BlogTech, iPhone Tags:

Ready for the iPhone

July 23rd, 2008 Comments off

OK, finally. The WordPress for iPhone app came out, but I had to wait until I could upgrade my blog to the latest version of WordPress… the problems that arose because of which are detailed below. But the entire post below was written on the iPhone, so the thing works. This post is not written on the iPhone, for a very simple reason: it’s not easy to type on the iPhone. It is, of course, far easier and far faster than using a numeric keypad on a normal cell phone, and I’m getting pretty fast at it… but it’s still a pain in the butt if you want to input a substantial amount of data.

[A side note: I am getting very used to the iPhone’s predictive correction mode, so much so that I subconsciously expect it to help me out when typing on my laptop or desktop machines–and then I am annoyed to remember that the feature does not work on those machines. Why not?]

Other problems: entering HTML commands is a pain, as the angled brackets needed are two shift-screens away–you essentially have to type the angled brackets and other stuff like slashes beforehand, then go back and fill in the alphanumeric stuff, otherwise you’re spending all your time getting into and out of shift modes. WordPress could add a killer feature by placing an HTML tag menu in the input screen–tap once to see the choices, tap the selection and it inputs the HTML. Hard to understand why they did not include this feature in the first place.

But all kvetching aside, it’s a nice app, and I plan to use it from time to time. It’s just that its entry was marred by very poor planning on WordPress’ part.

Alas, it is past one in the morning here, so doing a photo blog test wouldn’t make much sense. I’ll see if I can’t add something tomorrow, though I’ll be pretty darn busy most of the day. Tomorrow is the Tokko lecture, Mr. Tadamasa Iwai (former WWII suicide pilot) telling us about his experiences and his outlooks. For those of you interested, the information to attend (it’s free) is on this page.

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Bad Planning

July 23rd, 2008 1 comment

Well, the blog is up and running… no thanks to WordPress. The bastards made the upgrade sound easy, and just neglected to mention that anyone upgrading from and old enough version would have all of their category data erased. Completely.

As a result, I had to spend more than two hours laboriously poring through data files, retyping and filling in category names and slugs… twice. And I have 52 categories in this blog.

That WordPress has not fixed this or even made a note of it in the install read-me file is downright irresponsible… especially because they could easily warn of a simple workaround. Obviously, this problem does not happen when upgrading sequentially, but only when jumping, as in going from 2.2 to 2.6. Clearly, had I installed 2.4 before installing 2.6, or something like that, I would have been saved a few hours of hassle and grief.

So, thanks a bunch, you WordPress clowns.

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Please Be Patient…

July 22nd, 2008 Comments off

I’m about to upgrade my WordPress software, and so am leaving this notice just in case things go wrong. If they do, check back after a bit and I should have it sorted out…

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None Too Soon

July 21st, 2008 6 comments

WordPress is finally coming out with their iPhone blogging client app. TypePad has had theirs out since day one, and while it’s only been a week and a half, I’ve been impatiently awaiting WordPress’. Being able to snap a photo and blog on it immediately from the street will be a nice addition to this blog, so I’m looking forward to it. Don’t know how much I’ll use it, but I can imagine a lot that could be done… once I stop being too busy with work to do too much with it.

Certainly it’ll be nice when Sachi and I visit countryside spas and there’s no Internet connection where we stay. The iPhone’s built-in Safari was already good enough for basic blogging, but in a kludgy way. This new interface should be much nicer.

See WordPress’ video for the new app below.

The announcement today says that the app has been uploaded to the App Store, and only awaits Apple’s clearance for it to be available. I have heard that it will be free, but not from any official source.

On a side note, has anyone noticed there is only a relative trickle of new apps since the store opened ten days ago? Hopefully that’ll change to more of a flood soon… or myabe my expectations are just way too high.

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Splog? Obnoxious Google-Juice-Seeking Blogger? Or Is There Much of a Difference?

July 17th, 2008 3 comments

I got another of what sometimes comes around to the blog: a kind-of-spammy comment. Not the usual hundred links to pharma or fake-Rolex wares, not a generic “your blog is the best!” sycophantic fake post just to link to a site that sells such stuff–but instead a comment posted by someone who would appear to be a real blogger–except that the comment was slightly off-topic. It was about the iPhone, but was a rant against AT&T and Apple, in a blog post about iPhone hype in Japan, pre-iPhone release.

That kind of not-quite-right comment sets off alarms for me, and I checked it out by Googling a string of text from the comment–and lo, he had dropped the exact same comment, word for word, into at least 16 blogs–at least, those were the blogs that posted his comment. Who knows how many more blogs, like this one, saw through the comment and tossed it.

Seeing the guy’s blog made me wonder–was he a real blogger? Was he a spammer? He was not an obvious splogger, as his posts seem to be original, as opposed to copied from existing blogs; at first glance his blog just seems to be a normal opinion blog, and for all I know, it actually is. But a closer look revealed one section–titled “How To”–which featured all the classic spam links: weight loss, texas holdem, the works.

Is this the new face of spamming? Do they hire people now to front blogs with original content, who try to fake people into approving their content, allowing their mass comments, accruing Google Juice, only to act as a false front for the worst of the spammers?

It’s an evolving world, and god forbid, this could be the future–spammers slipping in under the radar, offering easy cash to sell-out shills who write new content so they can make a few bucks on the side, with the ultimate goal being to fool honest bloggers and steal from them the Search Engine credibility which is now becoming harder and harder to get through more obvious means.

This guy “Pete” (if that is his real name–I would be too ashamed to use mine, if I were him) is worse than the spammers: he fronts for them, offers them a veneer of reality they never deserved, all for a few bucks on the side. The new Quisling of the blogosphere.

Did I mention that I detest anything related to spamming? (No? Hmm, how could I have missed that?)

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I Hate Internet Explorer 6 With a Vengeance That Can Only Be Expressed in Arabic

June 16th, 2008 5 comments

I truly do. IE6 is without much doubt the single crappiest browser in existence, and yet–thanks to Microsoft forcing it on everyone for years–it is used by a majority of people surfing the web. Thanks again to Microsoft for not making it easy for people using XP to upgrade to IE7 (there is no automatic prompt, and they demand to be able to scan your computer for pirated software), most of those users are not changing.

Which means that if you want to design a web page, especially for a business (as I am trying to do), you can’t afford to show an ugly page to a majority of visitors–so you are royally screwed by IE6, forced to work far harder and to accept lower standards for the end product. I wanted to make a beautiful set of pages for my school’s site, so I taught myself CSS and really worked up a very nice design. It looks fantastic in Firefox and Safari on Mac and Windows, and even IE7 likes the way it looks. But IE6 blows it all to hell, making every single design element an excruciating torture to find painfully twisted workarounds, which lead to scatterings of new problems in their wake. I should have seen this coming–IE6 has torpedoed several other of my attempts to build nice web sites, including an attempt earlier this year.

The result is that I am spending 90% of my time working around bugs in that piece of crap IE6. I swear, I am just about ready to buy a plane ticket to Redmond so I can personally strangle Bill Gates.

That said, there are workarounds. One of the many problems in IE6 is that it does not recognize pseudo-elements. If you recall from my tutorial on CSS, you can create new HTML commands–called “elements”–and so define your own styles in a way that can be easily expressed. One that I wanted to use was small caps. The coding is easy: scaps { font-variant: small-caps }. Insert that into your styles and the use of a “scaps” tag will get you small caps. Except in IE6, where you can’t define elements like that. You can re-define elements that already exist, but you can’t create new ones.

That presents a problem for my small caps idea: you either have to add small caps to an existing style (in which case you can’t have the small caps by themselves) or you have to create a class for small caps, in which case it is again necessary to piggyback on another existing style. It seemed impossible to create just small caps without having it go along with something else, so I came up with another idea: hijack an existing style I don’t use. I chose the “u” tag, because it’s bad style to use underlines on a web page–people will think they’re links. So I did this: u { text-decoration: none; font-variant: small-caps; }. In essence, that tells the “underline” tag to subtract underlining and to add small caps–I just turned “u” into a “small caps” command. I could probably do the same with “s” and “strike.”

A bigger problem with IE6 was the lack of support for “position: fixed,” which allows you to set the position for any element–a table, a paragraph, an image–so that it appears exactly where you want it on a page, as defined by distance from top, left, bottom or right by universal units of length. IE6 won’t recognize that, however, and that was a key element in having one part of my site render correctly. This time the fix was not easy, so I couldn’t do it myself. Looking on the web, I found many people who offered various fixes; some of them led to jerky scrolling, but one actually did the trick pretty well. You can see the solution on that page; it’s a bit hard to describe, except to say that it fights fire with fire, using a different IE6 bug to fix the “position: fixed;” bug. Clever. It still leaves me with scroll bar problems I’d rather do without, but you can’t have everything.

Back to work…

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Introduction to CSS ( CSS Tutorial )

June 8th, 2008 7 comments

I’m teaching an evening class this semester on web page design, and I hope to get around to CSS this time. Of course, it helps to actually know CSS–which I didn’t–so I dove in recently. Now, I’ve known about CSS for years, and got slightly familiar with it five years ago when I started this blog–it was necessary to customize the blog’s appearance. But back then, it was mostly just taking a pre-made CSS style sheet and altering numbers and image URLs until I got what I wanted. I didn’t learn how to actually write CSS myself.

So I started looking around for an acceptable tutorial on CSS–and that’s not easy to do. Most tutorials for stuff like this which you find on the web are terrible. Either they’re written in so disorganized or unclear a fashion that you can’t understand it, or the writer assumes you know a lot already without even mentioning what you need to know before reading the tutorial. It’s incredibly helpful to find a tutorial somewhere that is understandable, and where you don’t quickly run into something leaves you completely befuddled. I found a few sites that seemed fairly good, but none that explained everything to my satisfaction. I had to go to several sites to find enough explanations that told me what I needed to know.

So here’s my own try. For this, I will assume that you know basic HTML–which you have to in order to get started with CSS, frankly. (If you don’t know HTML but want to, here’s what I use to teach it in my college course.) If you know about tags (commands) and attributes, basic rules, and have an HTML vocabulary that allows you to make a basic web page, then this tutorial on CSS will be understandable–I hope. Let me know what areas might trip you up.

If you already know or are not interested in CSS, just skip over to the next post. Sorry about the length of this post, but I didn’t want to hide the lesson under the fold.

CSS is a kind of coding related to HTML. It allows for much greater control of the formatting of a web page. Regular HTML allows for some format control, but it is very limited, like using a really basic, bare-bones text-editing program. CSS allows for much finer control, like a more advanced word processing program.

There are three ways to add CSS to a document:

  • in-line
  • internal (embedded)
  • external (as in a style sheet)

In-line CSS is CSS coding which is independently inserted into an HTML tag. For example:

<p style="color: red;">This text will be red.</p>

will result in the text turning red. As you can see here:

This text will be red.

The CSS is in the tag attribute "style." There is no need for other CSS code to be placed anywhere; the code is independent.

Internal CSS is where you define certain styles within the head of a web page, and then refer back to those styles within HTML tags throughout the page. The value here is if you want to apply the same style in many different points in your document, but don’t want to insert the CSS code again and again at every point you need it.

External CSS is where you define your styles in a separate document called a style sheet. This allows you to define the styles for many web pages, all at once. Instead of defining the styles again and again in each page’s header, you define the styles once in the style sheet. Every web page links to the style sheet once in the head. After that, references to these style definitions in the web page code will draw from the style sheet’s definitions. This way is best for maintaining a single style over an entire web site (such as in this blog).

In this tutorial, we will begin by using internal CSS. This will allow us to later take this knowledge and apply it to in-line or external CSS.

Next, we need to understand selectors. In internal CSS, you put them in the head of your document; in external CSS, you put them in your style sheet. They define a style which can be applied in an HTML tag in the body of a web page.

Since we are doing internal CSS, then within the head command, you will add the command:

<style type="text/css">

And then within that command, you will place the selectors. Each selector begins with a name followed by properties inside curved brackets; the properties include declarations, each which take up a line and end with a semicolon; each declaration has a property followed by a colon, and then the value. Here’s what it could look like:

<style type="text/css">

selector {

property: value;

property: value;

property: value;


selector {

property: value;

property: value;



There are three kinds of selectors:

  • element
  • class
  • id

Following is an explanation of each type of selector. (Note that there are more than three types; we’re just looking at the main three.)

An element will change the effect of an HTML tag. For example, a <blockquote> command in HTML will have the effect of indenting text by a half inch in a paragraph separate from the preceding and following text. If, however, you define an element style for the <blockquote> command in CSS, then every use of that command will result in different effects. For example:

blockquote {

background-color: lightblue;


If you add this style, then every <blockquote> you add to the web page will have a light blue background, no exceptions. For example:

Here’s what that example might look like in practice.

A nice feature of elements is that they allow you to create your own HTML commands. If the element you create already exists (for example, "blockquote") then the style you define will be added to the command’s existing properties. However, if you create an element which is not already an HTML command, then it becomes a new command with the properties that you define. For example:

blah {

background-color: lightblue;



This will create the command <blah> which you can then use to apply the styles you defined. However, it should be noted that some CSS styles will not work with all tags; for example, text-indent CSS properties will only work with existing block HTML tags like <p> or <blockquote>. I don’t know (at present, at least) of any way to create new block-level tags.

Next, a class allows you to add styling to a variety of HTML tags, or to some tags but not all instances of them. For example, what if you want some of your blockquotes to have light blue backgrounds, but some not? In such a case, you would introduce this selector:

.blueback {

background-color: lightblue;


Note that the class selector begins with a period.

Here, you have introduced a new class called "blueback." You can call the class anything you want within the naming rules (to be safe, keep it one word, lowercase, avoid punctuation or symbols). You then activate the class by adding the attribute class="classname" (no initial period) to any command that can use it. For example, you could add this to the <blockquote> command, the <em> command, the <b> command, and so forth.

At this point, however, you might wonder if it’s almost as much work to add the selectors and the tag attribute than it is to just add the CSS directly within the tag. But this example only has one declaration, which is "background-color." You can add as many as can apply, for example:

.blueback {

background-color: lightblue;

color: red;

font-weight: bold;

font-size: 16pt;


With that many declarations, it is much more economical to simply add the "class" attribute to any particular command.

Finally, we have id selectors. They begin with a number sign (#) whereas classes begin with a period (.). They are almost exactly the same as class selectors, except that they are supposed to be used with only one tag per page, instead of with many tags. This is for special cases where the position of an object on a page, as defined in CSS, is unique and does not exist elsewhere. However, since the class selector can do the same thing, id selectors are in a way redundant–but are still widely used anyway.

Now, for those of you who enjoy learning a few quick tricks now and then, here’s a fun one. Have you seen web pages where stuff changes when you pass the mouse over it? Text changes color, size, etc.?

This can be accomplished by duplicating a selector, adding ":hover" to the name of the second version of the selector, and changing the declarations in the hover version to be what you want. For example:

<style type="text/css">

.blueback {

background-color: lightblue;

color: red;


.blueback:hover {

background-color: lightgreen;

color: blue;

font-size: 120%;



The above will take whatever commands it is applied to, add a blue background and red text–except when you hover the mouse over the text, whereupon it will take on a green background, and the text will turn blue and slightly larger. You will notice that this effect is used in this blog when hovering over links. It changes post titles from black to red, and in-post links from plain to underlined.

However, you can use the alternate :hover effect almost anywhere you can imagine, to whatever effect is possible. Try hovering the mouse over this paragraph, for example.

Naturally, there is a lot more to CSS, but what we have covered up to this point will get you a fairly long way. Of course, one of the most important points in learning a new language is vocabulary. Above, I have covered grammar and syntax–but to really use CSS, you must be familiar with–or at lest possess a cheat sheet–showing a lot of the possible properties and values. So I have created an independent cheat-sheet page which you can print out and use whenever you are coding CSS. It doesn’t have all properties that are out there, but it’s a long list with most of what a beginner would want or need.

In a later post, I will wrap up by explaining how to take what we’ve learned here and apply it to in-line or external CSS formats.

I hope that this tutorial serves to introduce you to CSS in as simple, clear, and useful way as possible. If you’re in my target audience–HTML coder who doesn’t know CSS very well yet–and you tried out this tutorial, please leave a comment to let me know how it achieved its goal. If you had a problem somewhere, please let me know where it was and what the problem was. Thanks!

Blogging Is Good for You

May 24th, 2008 1 comment

Does this mean I can stop exercising and just sit here blogging more instead?

Categories: BlogTech Tags:

Don’t Move

April 4th, 2008 7 comments

I’ve said it before here, and I’ll say it again: movement on a web page is bad. It started with the beginning of HTML, and the dreaded–and thankfully now defunct–“blink” command, which would make text blink on and off continuously. Even the guy who created that is said to have lamented that it was “the worst thing I’ve ever done for the Internet.” The dreaded animated GIF followed close behind, and has powered who knows how many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of annoying, blinking ads. The present-day scourge is the Flash animation, which–while cool and productive if used sparingly and correctly in the right context–is most often used to maddening effect.

Maybe some people can get by reading a web page with stuff flashing an moving all around the periphery–I cannot. It drives me up the fracking wall. And yes, that’s the whole point of an ad, to draw attention to itself–but ads are getting far too intrusive, like those animated ads they have on TV now, where you’re trying to watch a show and characters from some other show walk on to the bottom one-third of the screen and dance around for several seconds. Sorry, but that’s like coming up to someone while they’re reading a book, shaking their shoulders, and then dancing around, saying, “look at me!” You get their attention, but you also piss them off. I understand the necessity of ads, but ads which compete with the content they support are self-defeating–ads should be separate from the content, not taking your attention away from it.

Fortunately, there are measures that one can take. Various browsers have various ad-blocking software; I have settled on using Safari, liking its appearance and overall feature set. For that browser, I use PithHelmet, and have gladly paid the $10 for it (even though just clicking on “I Paid” would stop the nagware element). It does an excellent job of giving the user power over the browsing experience. You choose an overall set of ad-blocking preferences, but you can also change the settings for each individual site. You can choose to switch plug-ins, Java, and/or Javascript on or off for any given site, and there are a dozen or so settings for ad-blocking, by size, source, or type. If there’s a site you visit with any regularity, you can tweak the settings to allow for maximum accessibility and maximum ad-blocking.

An ad blocker can make a difference like night and day. I have been blissfully unaware of how many ad have invaded so many web pages, and was shocked to see how bad things had become when a new version of Safari temporarily disabled my blocker, and the ads suddenly appeared. That demonstrated to me so clearly that a good ad blocker can change a web page strewn with flashing, annoying ads into a nice, simple, quiet place to read your favorite content.

There are drawbacks, of course. For some reason, I can’t get any blocker to stop animated GIFs on my computer, and I can’t figure out why. Fortunately, they are less common today, but the occasional ones on my favorite political blogs (like the EFF button on Daily Kos or the “Listen” mini-ad on Kevin Drum’s blog) annoy me; usually they are small and minimally distracting, but I have a low distraction threshold, and they still bug me. I have to either zoom in on the text (another great use of Apple’s brilliantly-executed zoom feature), move the window so the movement is put out of frame, or suffer through it just long enough so I can scroll past it.

Another drawback is when wanted features and annoying ads use the same resource that your ad blocker can opt the block. Disabling plug-ins will do away with nasty Flash ads, but it will also disable YouTube videos, now a standard component of many blogs. When plug-ins are disabled, there’s no way to even link to the video, so you either have to fish around in the page’s source code and copy it, or temporarily turn the ad blocking off long enough to copy the URL from the YouTube menu. Similarly, when you disable simple image ads, other design-element parts of the page will also disappear. Getting rid of all the ads on Daily Kos, for example, will also get rid of the title banner at the top. Too much of this can make the page look a lot worse, but is still better than having to bear through ads.

But nowt here’s a new development: about a week or two ago, a series of related sites introduced a new version of their code which severely breaks the site’s appearance if you switch off the ads. I’m not sure how they did it, but it’s annoying as hell. LifeHacker, Wonkette, and Gizmondo are among the cross-linking group that use the same base code, and now all look like this:


If you scroll down, you can see the content, against a broken background image; it’s viewable, but only just. The annoyance factor reaches close to that of the ads being blocked. It’s impossible to say whether this was an accidental breakage due to bad coding, or if it was an intentional ploy to tell users, “pay by watching the ads or get the frack out of here.” Sadly, it will probably make me leave those sites for good–maybe what they want, as if I do them no adly goodness, then they make less money.

I have no problem with ads per se, just the annoying ones. If ads had only sat still on the periphery from the start, I probably would never have resorted to an ad blocker. Google does it best–unobtrusive and limited text ads off to the side, and relevant to content the user is looking at–I have even clicked through to some of them, which is a huge thing–I usually, as a matter of principle, never patronize ads on the Internet. But if they’re done right, they’ll work for me. And that’s the magic secret to good advertising: make it palatable, make it so it pleases, not so that it annoys. Advertise right and you can make money. Do it wrong and you drive customers away. The problem with ads is that it’s a lot easier to be an annoying attention-stealer than it is to be a quietly persuasive reminder. And the problem with web sites comes when people get so goddamned greedy that they smother their content with crap so annoying it overrides the enjoyment of the content itself.

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Sometimes You Gotta Pay Closer Attention

February 29th, 2008 2 comments

On the right sidebar to this blog, I have a feature called “On this day…,” a nice WordPress widget which shows you posts from this day on past years. As you know if you’ve read this blog, I have been blogging nonstop for more than four and a half years now.

So tonight, after it turned midnight, I looked at the sidebar and got a shock: there was only one blog post from this day, and it was in 2004. Somehow, I had missed blogging on this day for the past three years!

And then, I realized what day it was.

Categories: BlogTech, The Lighter Side Tags:

The Local News

February 24th, 2008 4 comments

Something happened a few days ago, I haven’t gotten around to blogging on until now. The Japan Times has a new feature, the Japan Times Blogroll, and I’m their feature this week:


Someone who works there knows about my blog, and so they asked me to participate. They sent me a questionnaire and gave me an answer limit of 900 words, which I reached exactly. They said that I would appear in the print version of the paper in the coming week, though the web story went up a few days ago. Not a big deal, but it’s always fun to get mentioned in the media. I even got link/plugs in for Paul and Sean.

It looks like the feature in general will be interesting to keep an eye on. They’ve already got What Japan Thinks, Japan Economy News & Blog, and Konbini Life on the roll. Maybe you can suggest a site you like to the editor using the link. Or I have an email connection with the JT guy who arranged things with me, I could pass any suggestions you have on.

Only one nit I have: the photo is credited to “Felicity Hughes Photos,” whoever that it. The problem is, Sachi took that photo, and I resized it for them. The image on their site is the exact same size in pixels as the one I provided, and is 24,028 bytes, where the original was 24,023 bytes. I don’t know who this Felicity Hughes is, but I don’t think she can claim full credit for tacking on five bytes somewhere.

Categories: BlogTech, Media & Reviews Tags:

Well, THAT Explains It

February 21st, 2008 Comments off

Email-Mad-0208For the past month or so, any comments made by visitors have been posting OK (or so it would appear to me), but I have not received any of the email notices that usually come for them. I couldn’t figure it out, but assumed it was a problem with my blog script. I tried to change it, but nothing happened. No biggie; I still got comments through the blog control interface, and I could sort out the problem later.

In the Computer class I teach, I use a web page test on one of my domains that uses the formmail script to generate emails; the students fill out the answers on a web page and an email gets sent to two of my accounts (one main, one for backup). About a month ago, it stopped working. I added a third email account, and that worked–but I could not figure out why the original two did not. I figured that something had gone wrong in the formmail script, that certain domains were not being properly accepted. No biggie; I could just rely on the email address that did work, and fix the problem later.

I also did not receive any email in general sent to certain accounts, but did not notice it because I have so many accounts on so many domains, and never heard from anyone saying, “I sent you an email, didn’t you get it?” There were the other problems, but with my busy schedule, I kept putting off trying to correct them.

Then today, I started to write an email while my students take their midterm, using one of the accounts that is supposed to get the test results but is not. I thought, hey, maybe the account is full. Sometimes that happens, even when I set my email accounts to delete retrieved messages from the server. But the accounts were nearly empty, with lots of room to spare.

Then I did something I should have done a while ago: I checked the history of the email connected to certain domains sharing the web hosting account. And indeed, none have gotten any new email for a whole month. And that just happened to be when I had demanded my web host move me to a new server when the old one had constant outages.

Apparently, when they moved me, they neglected to activate the email. I should have seen this right away, but I (a) trusted the web host to do the elementary tasks correctly, and (b) chalked up the other problems to scripting errors, which show up enough in truth.

Swell. So now I’m waiting on a helpdesk ticket to get things back up and running. But it shows you how easily you can lose a big chunk of your service if you’re not vigilant; it also makes me wonder, how do most people get along supervising their web sites? I mean, I’m no supergenius hacker or anything, but I do have a lot of experience and some very elemental web admin skills. What about people who really don’t know much about this kind of thing and depend on their web hosts to handle it all right? Man, that must be hairy for some people… I mean, if I can lose email for a month and not notice, what must some other people be living through?

On the other hand, perhaps, maybe people who don’t handle scripting up close simply yell to their web host for help whenever anything goes wrong. Had I done that, I wouldn’t have suffered with this so long.

Categories: BlogTech Tags:

Things Like That Can Get You Noticed

February 2nd, 2008 2 comments

I remember back to my days as a model in television commercials. Well, okay, I was in one commercial. But I also did some voice-over work for radio ads, and had a gig as the host for a half-hour TV show. Not an ongoing TV show in a half-hour format, but rather just a show that was on for a single half-hour. Well, okay, it was kind of an infomercial. I think I still have that videotape around here somewhere.

Even still, that all sounds rather impressive, much more so if you’ve ever seen what I look like, or heard what I sound like. My secret: I was almost the only game in town. That helps a lot.

This was back in 1985 to 1987, in my first few years living and working in Japan. I got a job teaching English at the Toyama YMCA. Toyama Prefecture, on the Japan Sea coast halfway down Honshu, had a population of one million; three hundred thousand lived in Toyama City, where I lived and worked. And in the entire prefecture, there were only about thirty non-Asian foreigners around, and I was one of them. So when a local TV station wanted a foreign model for a local car dealership commercial, or a foreign voice for a local radio ad, they didn’t have many alternatives to turn to. So I got the gigs.

This comes to mind because I just finished writing answers to questions for a spot in The Japan Times to be published in a week or two. They have a new “blogroll” feature they’re trying out, and I was asked if I would participate. The feature focuses on Japan bloggers, and I guess I qualify–I told them that Japan is not the main focus of my blog, but being based in Japan is a big part of it, it seems. I doubt that this blog would be getting that kind of attention otherwise; like I said, it helps to be part of a smaller population if you want to get noticed. Not that there is a dearth of blogs in or about Japan, but it is a sub-group of relatively limited population, especially compared to the now-burgeoning blogosphere.

The evolution of this sub-group also brings to mind a comparison with how I have fit into communities in Japan since coming here a few decades ago. Back in 1985, I was one of a very limited sub-group; being outnumbered 10,000 to one in a city where most people look radically different from you is quite the experience. Back then, I used to turn heads every day. A lot of double-takes, a lot of whispered, “Ah, gaijin da!” Groups of teenage kids would dare each other to speak English to me, and once I even scared a little girl silly by smiling at her and saying, “Konnichi wa!

Moving to Tokyo changed that. It was refreshing to not be noticed so much any more, to walk down the street and not cause a stir. To have local residents be bored at the sight of me much more often than startled or amazed. Not being noticed can be a big thing after being the center of attention for a few years.

Not that I was the center of anyone’s attention in the blogosphere, now or back then. I started this blog when blogs were pretty new, and average-Joe blogs were just taking off. I joined a webring called “Japan Bloggers” when there were only a few dozen members. You can still find blogs out there with archives going back before 2003, but not a whole lot. Still, blogs were not exactly rare, and with American politics evolving like it was, a lot of people found a reason to go online with their thoughts.

Nevertheless, it was a lot less crowded of an arena back then. Today, it’s very easy to get lost in the stampede. So being a member of a still relatively-limited corner of the blogosphere can get you noticed.

Categories: BlogTech, Focus on Japan 2008 Tags:

Change Servers, or Change Hosts?

January 25th, 2008 3 comments

Surpass Hosting, the web host I use for this site and most of my others, is beginning to show the same signs of unreliability that I have seen in hosts before I am forced to leave them–primarily, constant site outages, often for several minutes at a time, but increasingly for hours and sometimes even the better part of a day. Twice in the past week, the outages were several hours long, included both of my accounts (which are on separate servers), and even blacked out the host’s own web site.

Maybe it’s just the server (Saprus) that is using; my other account with the same host on another server is down far less often. And while Surpass has, every few years, suffered from short bouts of prolonged outages, over the long run they have provided pretty good service for a pretty good price.

Just thinking out loud here. I certainly can’t post this until starts responding again. But I gotta figure I am losing significant traffic here over the long run.

Categories: BlogTech Tags:

Domain Name Blackmail

January 20th, 2008 23 comments

Whatever you do, never use the domain name registrar Network Solutions, ever. If they are your registrar for any domain names now, then immediately pull your business from them, and get your names registered with another registrar, like GoDaddy. A policy Network Solutions enacted in just the past few weeks showed them up to be predatory, unethical, and downright anti-consumer.

In short: when you do a search for a domain name on Network Solution’s web site, they claim the name for themselves and force you to pay them more than three times what the competition charges, or else risk losing the name to cybersquatters.

Although it’s been in the news over the past few weeks, I had not heard of the controversy. I got wind of it today, when my father told me that he’d fallen into their little trap. A family friend needed help getting a domain name, and together they came up with the perfect name–the only name, in fact, that they felt would be good for the situation. He went to Network Solution’s web site to see if it was available. The web site informed him that it was available for purchase–but prices for other dot-com domains were listed for $15 on the page, so he assumed that was the price (actually, that also is misleading–the domains are “from” $15, and most are $35) and went to GoDaddy to see if he could get a lower price. To his surprise, GoDaddy informed him that the domain name was taken. When he did a “WhoIs” search, he discovered that Network Solutions had reserved the domain name, blocking any purchase from anywhere except Network Solutions. If he went to their site, the domain name was listed as “available.”

It turns out that there is a new twist in cybersquatting, called “frontrunning.” Apparently, cybersquatters have worked out ways to see what domain names people are enquiring about on services like Network Solutions and GoDaddy. When they see that there is interest in a name they deem worthwhile, they will move in and snap it up before the person who originally searched for it can make up their minds.

What Network Solutions claims it is doing is protecting people from the frontrunners: when someone searches for a domain name, they put a 4-day hold on it. The idea is that frontrunners would be foiled from snatching it up. That’s the claim, in any case.

And, as it turns out, the claim is completely bogus. Network Solutions is doing nothing but blackmailing consumers into buying the domain name from them, and nobody else. How can we tell? My father and I did a little experiment: we ginned up a domain name that we didn’t really want, and I searched for it at GoDaddy: name available! For $10/year.

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I then searched for the same name at Network Solutions: name available!

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I went back to search for it again at GoDaddy: Sorry, that name is taken.

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We did a WhoIs search: Network Solutions has taken that name.

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But the key was to do one final search: while I had done the original search, my father–not only on a different computer, but from a different continent–searched for it on Network Solutions: that domain name is available!

In other words, anyone could get that domain name–but only from Network Solutions, and only for $35–more than three times what GoDaddy charges.

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How does this protect you from Frontrunners? Not at all; they could buy the domain name if they wanted, from Network Solutions. In fact, the block on the name helps the Frontrunners–if you decide to wait four days for the domain name to become open again, that give the cybersquatters that much more time to grab it out from under you.

In other words, if you are afraid that someone else might grab the domain name you want, then you are essentially blackmailed into paying steep prices to buy it from Network Solutions.

Network Solutions does not even tell you about the 4-day lock before you do a search. A week ago, they claimed they would add that to their web site–something that would take only minutes to add–and yet no warning appears today when you do a domain name search.

Network Solutions claims that they “hide” the data from frontrunners, but when the WhoIs search actually advertises that the name was searched for and held by Network Solutions, their claim falls apart as an utter crock. In fact, until just a few days ago, Network Solutions would actually go so far as putting a billboard ad for themselves on the domain name someone searched for, calling out for other people to snap up that domain name! Yeah, sure, they’re doing a great job of “hiding” that information. And up until last week, they were putting holds on domain names that people checked out under WhoIs searches–not even asking on their web site.

Now, if they allowed customers the option of a domain name lock for four days so that only they could purchase the domain name, that might be a different story. But that’s not what Network Solutions did. Instead, they decided on a policy that essentially tricks people into divulging their original ideas for names, and them blackmails them to pay usurious prices, fast, or risk losing their idea to cybersquatters.

Scummy. Really scummy. I believe in sending businesses a signal. I will never touch Network Solutions as a registrar (luckily, I never did before), and I urge everyone else to do the same. If you have domains registered with them, then leave. Get out. A company that treats potential customers like that is bound to burn you, sooner or later.

Update: My father says he called Network Solutions and asked them to release the domain name he’d searched for, the one he and the family friend needed–and Network Solutions freed the domain name. Which is great for my dad and our friend, but is another bit of proof that Network Solutions isn’t trying to stop frontrunners. They had no proof whatsoever that my dad was not a frontrunner himself; they just released the domain at his request.

Been Told You’re a Spammer?

December 6th, 2007 2 comments

I just ran into the same problem that, apparently, countless bloggers have just run into: my blog stopped working. I couldn’t post, moderate comments, or do anything to change my blog. Every time I tried, I got an error, giving me this message:

We’re sorry, but we could not fulfill your request ….

Your Internet Protocol address is listed on a blacklist of addresses involved in malicious or illegal activity. See the listing below for more details on specific blacklists and removal procedures.

Your technical support key is: (deleted)

You can use this key to fix this problem yourself.

A link is then given to “fix the problem,” but it’s just a page which tells you that you’re a spammer or have been taken over by them:

Your computer’s IP address was determined to have recently sent spam or engaged in malicious activity as reported by a third-party monitoring service. This means your computer is most likely infected with viruses or other malicious software. See below for more information and removal instructions.

This I knew was BS–I use a Mac, and there’s nothing bad coming out of this system.

A quick search revealed the real cause: anti-spam software used by WordPress, specifically Bad Behavior, has screwed up in a major fashion and has blacklisted a lot of people who should not be blacklisted. Thanks a ton there.

So I went in and deactivated Bad Behavior, and the site works again.

But I also realized that this was probably also the reason why no one left a comment on the blog in the past 24 hours. If you tried to comment in the past day and got denied or told you were a spammer, my apologies; the problem is fixed now.

Bad Behavior, however, seems to be living up to their name; despite inconveniencing huge numbers of people, there was not so much as an apology on the site, just this explanation:

Update: Some people have asked for more details on what exactly happened. In brief, yesterday I moved all of my sites to a new dedicated server. In the process, I decommissioned an old blacklist I was running which I thought wasn’t being used, not realizing that Bad Behavior was still set to use it. Shortly afterward, I found myself locked out of my own blog, just as you all did. So therefore, this release.

Apology accepted. Man, what an ass–he takes on the tone of, “hey, I was inconvenienced too, so siooma.”

To make it worse, Bad Behavior did not give any clue in the process that it was responsible for blocking your site. Neither the initial error nor the less-than-useless “fix the problem” page gave any clear indication that it was Bad Behavior that was causing the problem. If I had not found references to the same error message in other people’s blogs via a Google search, I would never have guessed that Bad Behavior was the problem, and would have had to spend several frustrating hours trying to figure out what was wrong.

To the author of Bad Behavior: that is not just bad design, that is stupid design. What kind of software shuts down a site and then gives no clue as to what’s doing it? I may still use the software if spam increases while it’s off, but if I do reactivate it, I will take this idiotic design flaw into account and suspect Bad Behavior as the culprit whenever anything goes wrong.

Categories: BlogTech Tags:

Live Search Popup

November 17th, 2007 1 comment

I have changed the Search bar to something called “Live Search Popup,” which offers a list of results as you type. A really good WordPress plug-in, if you ask me. Give it a try.

Categories: BlogTech Tags:

Up Again

November 16th, 2007 5 comments


Okay, I got the web site I was working on back up and running. As it turns out, the failure of the site was not as completely disastrous as I had feared, but it was still bad enough. It took more than two hours to get everything back up and running.

Here’s what it is: I teach a Computer Science class, a basic survey course entitled “Introduction to Computers.” For some time, I have used this site design, on my namesake domain, It was good for my needs at the time, but I have been looking to redesign it for a few years now.

I had not planned on implementing the site until next semester, but a planned outage on which would hit smack in the middle of a lesson prompted me to open the site early. So far, only the main page and one section have been adapted to the new design; the rest of the site is simply the old web pages, grafted on to the new domain. You can check out the site at this address.

My main interest in creating the new site was to include a blog into the main page, as a way of contacting students at any time. As it is RSS and WordPress-powered, students can be contacted via an RSS reader or by email whenever there is a new message in the blog.

The blog is minimally viewable on a 1024-pixel-wide monitor as of this time (it can be viewed at lower resolutions, but the blog gets really squished), but is better suited for larger resolutions. The class sections are the big black buttons on the right (I have to size the buttons down, soon); only the section on Hardware (9 chapters) has been adapted to the new site design.

I have also changed things in that the old site was simply a directory on a site I use for various things, but the new site–, a domain closely named after my college campus, is now to be dedicated to this one site for this course. I got the domain name for this site years ago, but never did much with it until now.

This is also why I have not been blogging on too much else; aside from my regular teaching duties, this has been taking up literally all of my time recently. I hope to get back to other things this weekend. Still, I need to update the Excel section of the web site to focus on the 2007 version; the current pages (not visible because they are out of date) focus on Excel 2000.

If you have any comments or suggestions for the site, please let me know.

Categories: BlogTech, Main Tags: