March 2005 Archives

Over at, there is a story about how the WordPress web site has been used to spam Google. Basically, they are hosting a few thousand articles on topics related to valuable search keywords on behalf of another company. WP gets a flat fee, the company gets ad revenue from Google ads on the articles, and the articles get the benefit of’s high page rank by putting links to the articles on the home page in such a way that only search engines (and screen readers) can see them.

Besides being a violation of Google’s TOS, it’s just unethical. I have no problem with Matt or any of the rest of the WP folks being compensated for all the time and money they have put into this project, but there are legitimate ways to do that. Gaming the system with hidden links and taking advantage of all the folks who link to you because they are proud of your product isn’t one of them.

Reading the article, I have no doubt that Matt will listen to the complaints and stop this practice as soon as he can. Until he does, however, I have removed my front page link to WordPress. I won’t be a party to spamming.

Update: Matt has responded to this issue by apologizing and removing the articles. Hats off to him for doing the right thing and dealing with this so quickly. The WP link is back.

Funny story: About a week and a half ago, I poked myself in the eye with a stick. Why, you ask? Well, this guy comes up to me and says, “Would you rather poke yourself in the eye with a stick, or…”

And I just said yes. Now, I wish I had heard the other option. Live and learn.

Ok, fine, here’s what really happened.

Continue reading “Would you rather…”…

I received an email (two, actually) today that I’m pretty sure is spam. If it is, it’s a technique I haven’t seen before — trying to trick webmasters into updating broken links to point to the spammer’s web site. Here’s the email, with my comments interspersed and any mention of external URLs stripped so as not to give this guy any publicity:

I think I must have gotten your email address wrong. I am sending this email to both addresses I could find in hopes you get it this time.

This introduction has lots of problems. He’s sending this to “both addresses” he could find. The two addresses he sent to are not actual accounts, though. Nor are they addresses that I have ever used anywhere. I received them because I have a catch-all account that gets any email that is not sent to a real email account. That leads us to the other problem here: If he had tried to send this email previously, my catch-all would have caught that too, but it didn’t.

Just a friendly note to say that your link to [URL removed] (on your page is out of date. This page is no longer available. If at all possible I would appreciate it if you would update it to our new website at [URL removed]

If by chance I have got the wrong email address for the person responsible for updates to your website could you please forward this email to the right address.

PS. If you could drop me a note when you are done it would be really great.

He was right, the link was broken. So, I went to his site. There was no mention of the site I had previously linked to. Actually, there wasn’t much mention of anything — it looked like a very poorly built portal. A quick whois lookup on both domains showed no connection between the two sites.

I decided to just delete the link from my page. Whether or not this guy was legit, his site was completely irrelevant to what I originally wrote about. Since the site is gone, it’s easier to just get rid of the link.

Anyway, this is a warning to webmasters out there: Do a little research before accepting someone’s link update. Strangers with candy, and all that…

I’ve been fighting the urge to write about the AutoLink feature in the beta version of Google’s Toolbar. Thankfully, now I don’t have to. Yoz Grahame has an excellent write-up that knocks down all the specious arguments that have been raised against AutoLink. Read and decide for yourself.

I had two years of Spanish in high school, and another two years of it in college. Straight A’s all the way through. With those years of study under my belt, I can go into any Mexican restaurant and sound slightly less dumb when I order. I cannot, however, speak a complete sentence in Spanish.

You might think it would be hard to study something for four years and not get anything out of it, but it’s really not. I just memorized what I needed to memorize to get my A. I wasn’t interested in learning Spanish, so I didn’t try to understand what I was doing. Thinking about it now, I probably shouldn’t have received such high grades. But, there’s not much a teacher can do about kids like me — grades have to be based on objective results. I knew it all, but didn’t understand a bit of it.

Now, I’m starting to wish I did understand more than one language. I think it would expand the list of countries I would feel comfortable visiting. Spanish would be the obvious choice, but I think I’d be more interested in French or maybe German. Maybe I’ll choose a dead language so nobody will know if I’m pronouncing it right.

I’ll start by visiting the library to see what options they have. Another possibility would be something from If I can find something I enjoy using it will be easier to stick with it. I also want something that will teach me to understand and use the language, not just help me pronounce, “Excuse me, where is the bathroom?”

See more progress on: Learn another language

If things go as planned, my wife and I will start work on our book in April. We had planned to use a wiki to collaborate on the book, but I might try out Hieraki, a wiki-style app that has some book-specific features.

See more progress on: Write a book (nonfiction)

I’ve been making up stories since I was a kid. I suppose that sounds bad, like I’m a habitual liar. These stories were just for me. When playing with my toys, I was never bound by the universe the toy manufacturers created. In my room, Kobra Khan, Storm Shadow, and Krang plotted together to destroy the good toys. Of course, all the characters brought their own personal baggage into the storyline. Even my Hot Wheels had plots and subplots.

With all these stories rattling around in my head, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Unfortunately, there’s never time for such things, what with life and all. When I heard about National Novel Writing Month, that sounded perfect for me — a one month, no holds barred writing marathon. My wife is going to write a novel, too, so it should be a lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to November.

See more progress on: write a novel

I think I’m done with the major changes to this site. I may still tweak things here and there — I had some icon ideas I might still do — and there are some problems in IE that I should fix. But, from a feature standpoint, things are done.

This design is completely different from the one I had been planning to do for over a year. I just couldn’t get my original idea to work, so I put it away for a while. Then, I happened to be browsing iStockPhoto when I came across a collection of scans of old papers. The textures were just great, so I bought one and started playing with it. The header image was done with a wood-burning technique.

It was after I created the header that I came up with the book idea. I realized I could put a mirror image of the paper next to itself and get the illusion of an open book. With the book not centered, you get the feeling of a liquid layout, even though it’s not really — the sidebar can vary in width, but it doesn’t really need much width, so it works at a lot of different window sizes.

One of the goals of the new design was to add some new features I’d seen on other sites, and to integrate some of the online tools that I use. For example, the “Margin Notes” are powered by, the social bookmarking system. I’m really enjoying — it’s rediculously easy to use. I’m finding more and more that tags/labels/keywords are a much better way to organize things than a structured hierarchy.

To put my links on this site, I wrote a script that uses this PHP class, which wraps calls to the API in an easy-to-use class. My script pulls my 10 most recent links that I have tagged with “” and writes them to a text file. I specify that tag just in case I create a link that’s not worth posting here. I have a cron job that runs that script every two hours.

I’ve also been playing with Flickr and 43Things, so you will probably see posts generated from those sites from time to time.

And, yes, I’ve switched this blog from Movable Type to WordPress. Just so we’re clear, I’m not abandoning MT — I still use it for OKMensa, and I’m working on integrating it into Smart Goat. I’d heard good things about WordPress, so I wanted to give it a try. I like trying out new systems and being able to work in multiple platforms. So far it’s been… interesting. I’ll have a full review up soon.

You know, I’m not one who is easily discouraged. I’ve always been an OU Football fan, even during the period between Switzer and Stoops (otherwise known as the Dark Ages). I’ve always been a Dallas Cowboys fan, even though there hasn’t been anything to cheer about in a very long time. And, I’ve always been a happy resident of Oklahoma, even when I disagreed with decisions the state was making.

But, man, I’m about ready to move. First, I find out that 1 in 10 Oklahomans is insane. Yeah, I know, no surprise there. Today I learn that Oklahoma ranked 43rd on a list of livable states. 43rd. I think what this means is that for most people, they would be better off living in a port-o-toilet next to a perpetual tire fire than to live in Oklahoma.

Oh well, at least there was one bright spot in the study: No, not the part about the sunny days — the fact that we still get to make fun of Arkansas.

Update: Angela sent me the complete list.

Wired News is reporting that the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005 is likely to get passed by the House and signed by the President very soon. The article focuses on one section of the legislation, the Family Movie Act of 2005, but there’s actually several interesting things going on here.

Continue reading “New Copyright Law About to Pass”…

While working on the design for this site, I ran into something of a problem. It wasn’t a major problem, since it wouldn’t happen very often. But, when it did happen, it was a real nuisance.

The site uses the Faux Columns idea. By placing one wide image as the background for my #container, it allows #main and #sidebar to appear to be the same height, even when they are not.

Everything was fine until I made my browser window small enough to require a horizontal scroll bar. Scrolling to the right, I found this:

Screen shot of News Goat

Here’s what’s happening: #container, by default, has a width of “auto”. What does that mean? In this case, without margins, borders, or padding, that’s the width of the containing block. The containing block, in this case, is <body>.

<body> is an interesting fellow. If I understand things right, <body> encompasses the entire page. So, when a page is larger than the browser window (or viewport), the area outside the viewport is still enclosed by the <body>.

Which is what makes this problem strange. #container should be 100% of the width of the <body>, but it’s not — it’s 100% of the width of the viewport. That makes a huge difference. When you scroll to the right, #container does not exist in that area, so the background image is not drawn.

Since every browser I tried did the same thing, I suspect there is something in the spec that I am missing. Regardless, there is a solution: min-width.

By setting the min-width of #container to the width that a horizontal scroll bar would be required anyway, you can make sure your background image always extends at least far enough. Of course, Internet Explorer does not support min-width. I went with a Javascript solution. If you are browsing with Internet Explorer with Javascript turned off, well, God help you, you’ve got bigger problems than just my site.

Here it is, finally: The blog redesign that’s been 28 days in the making: News Goat 3.0, “The Book of Goat.”

This is very much a rough draft. I have several things I want to add/change/delete, but I wanted to go ahead and get the design up by the end of February. There’s nothing like working right up to the bitter end. Some lessons from college you never unlearn.

I have a whole lot more to write about this, but it’s late and I’d rather fix a few more things on the site before bed.