Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I am a sex god

I've been getting a lot of emails like this recently

Hi,
Hope I am not writing to wrong address. I am naice, pretty looaking girl. I am planning on visiting your town this month. Can we meet each other in person? Message me back at qzyv@directmailchat.info

Today was different, it came from somebody called Johnathan...

Makes you wonder how successful these kind of spams are, with a To: list of several people, a From: address that doesn't match the address they've asked me to reply to, a load of spelling mistakes and apparently coming from a girl with a boy's name.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Hurrah for Richmond Council

Richmond Council are introducing increased parking charges for high-polluting vehicles. This brought all the usual rubbish from the 4x4 drivers. Lets go through the points one by one.

4x4s are efficient

If your 4x4 is efficient then it won't be charged very highly. The charge is based on CO2 emissions, not car size.

I need a big car, I've got 4 kids

Presumably it was your decision to have 4 kids. Having kids is expensive, you have to feed and clothe them, house them. You wouldn't expect these to be subsidised would you? It's not like we have a shortage of kids on the planet.

Climate change is just a theory

Even though the vast majority of scientists agree that temperatures are rising and we are at least partly to blame, this line still gets trotted out. Can someone explain why I've still got bees flying round my garden at the end of October?  This isn't normal. But let's assume climate change isn't in fact happening. Cars produce pollution at a local level, are noisy and generally reduce quality of life, particularly in cities like London where there isn't enough space to accomodate them. Not only that, but fossil fuels will run out, some time. So it seems like a good idea to reduce our dependence on them.

It's undemocratic

The motoring dinosaur Jeremy Clarkson claimed the whole thing is undemocratic. How's that then? The council were voted for by the people of Richmond. If the residents don't like it, they can vote them out again.

What I like about this scheme is that it shows we can do something about climate change at the local level, we don't have to wait for the government or, even worse, the international community to do something. Since we live in the neighbouring borough and our council is also run by the Lib-Dems, I'm going to be lobbying them to introduce the same scheme.

Currently listening to Have A Day / Celebratory by The Polyphonic Spree from the album The Beginning Stages Of... [UK]

Friday, October 27, 2006

iTunes and Windows Live Writer love-in

For the past few months I've been using my Toshiba Gigabeat to listen to music in my office, but something has been bugging me about it for a while. The random play functionality is completely whacked out. It seems to be random based on the artist, so if you've got one track by an artist, that artist will get as much coverage as an artist with 100 tracks.

So I decided to move my MP3 collection on to my new PC and use iTunes instead. That in itself was a bit of a pain. The Gigabeat converts MP3s into a file with a SAT extension so you can't just copy them back across, since nothing but the Gigabeat knows what a SAT file is. But if you plug it in right, Windows recognises it as a media player and knows what to do with the files and does the conversion on the fly. All seems a bit odd really, but I could now listen to my MP3s through iTunes.

And now I've found a very nice plugin (well two actually) that lets you insert the track you're currently listening to into your blog post. Perhaps it should be called 'Completely Pointless Vanity Plug-In' but I like it.

Couple of things to note. The Apple website doesn't seem to be correct when it tells you where to put plug-ins for iTunes to pick up, it says they should go under 'My Documents' somewhere but I had to put it in C:\Program Files\iTunes\Plug-ins.

The Live Writer plug-in goes in C:\Program Files\Windows Live Writer\Plugins but by default the plug-in will insert 'Nothing playing', you need to update the HTML template to something like <P>Currently listening to %t% by %a% from the album %al%</P> to get it to work.

Currently listening to Carrion by British Sea Power from the album The Decline of British Sea Power

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Disabling the Dell malware

When I purchased my new PC it came with a whole host of crapware that I didn't want. Most of this could be removed but one piece of software remained, an extension for IE that brought up a Dell search page whenever a website failed to load. I've never tried to get rid of this because it's never caused too much harm but today it began interfering with my work so it was time to get rid of it. IE7 makes it pretty easy to disable pointless or dodgy add-ins. If you have the same problem as me, go to Tools/Manage Add-ons/Enable or Disable Add-ons and disable CBrowserHelperObject object. No more 'helpful' Dell search page, yippee!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Google Sitemaps improvements

I'm not sure when these changes were introduced to Google Sitemaps but there are now some useful little graphs that tell you how often your site is crawled and how responsive your site is. Go to the Diagnostic tab and click on 'Crawl Rate' to see it. You can even tell Google to crawl more often if you like (not sure if their bot will actually take any notice of this request or not). Overall, I like it a lot.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

So how quickly will IE7 be adopted?

Apparently IE7 will be distrbuted as part of Windows Update, so I wonder how quickly it will replace IE6? Looking at the stats for the Random Pub Finder, of the 85% who used Internet Explorer to visit this month, 4% were using IE7. I'm guessing it will take about 2 months for the majority of IE users to have switched. Lets wait and see... 

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

IE7 Stupidity

Internet Explorer 7 is mostly a good experience. Yeh, it's ripped off some of Firefox's features, but that's what Microsoft do well.

But what on earth is this dialog box about? I tried to paste into a field in Google Maps and it popped up. I understand that Microsoft is getting a little paranoid about security these days, but of course I want to allow the webpage to access my clipboard, I just hit CTRL-V! Oddly enough this doesn't happen on all websites, so perhaps Google Maps is doing some odd scripting when I do a paste. Who knows, but please someone fix it!

Exciting new website

In their ongoing attempts at SEO, BetterDeal have got a new site (New Car Showroom) and they want some inbound links. Where better to get them than from here, with my huge number of visitors and massive PageRank?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Hello World for ZX Spectrum lovers

When I was a young lad, there was nothing I liked more than going down to my local Dixons after school and typing my very own Hello World application into the nearest ZX Spectrum. But the Hello World apps I see today just don't match up to the beauty and elegance of that original version, so I've written one for C#

using System;

namespace HelloWorld
{
    class App
    {
        [STAThread]
        static void Main(string[] args)
        {
             line10: Console.WriteLine("Doogal is cool!");
             line20: goto line10;
        }
    }
}

Who says goto is evil? I think I might adopt this style for all my applications...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Bid on my birthday present

My brother has given everybody the opportunity to bid on my birthday present. Looks like he'll send it to me, even if somebody else outbids me, but any proceeds go to charity, so get bidding!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Google have cocked up again

It looks like Google has cocked up its data update again. The PageRank updates it started a few days ago look like they are being rolled back, so the Random Pub Finder is back to PR 0. More worryingly, if I do a site: search, all URLs bar three are now shown as supplemental. But If I do a search for particular keywords, other pages on the site are returned and aren't marked as supplemental. Go figure.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

How to have a reasonably successful website

I can't pretend to know a lot about making a website a huge success, none of the sites I've been involved with have been massively successful, but I've kind of worked out how to get a reasonable number of visitors to a site without any kind of massive outlay. Here are a few of my thoughts.

Don't spend a lot of cash

Websites are pretty cheap to run. Even if your website is your business, you can probably keep it running with no visitors and no income for a pretty long time. Blowing any money you do have on advertising before you're even sure your site is up to scratch is a sure fire recipe for disaster. Better to get just a few visitors in who'll give you a good idea if you're heading in the rifgr direction and you can fix any problems you have before too many people spot them.

I think advertising in the old media is pretty much a waste, it's very expensive and it's hard to see if it's been a success. You can advertise using AdWords for next to nothing, giving you the chance to see if it works at all and also trying out different advertising approaches.

Don't ignore SEO

Google is fond of saying that you should optimise for the end user, not the search engine. I can understand where they are coming from but essentially this is pretty much untrue. If end users can't find your site, whether the site has been optimised for users or not is pretty much irrelevant, they'll never see it. Chances are search engines will be the biggest source of traffic to your site, so of course you need to optimise for them. I managed to triple the number of visitors to the Random Pub Finder just by applying some simple SEO, all completely above board and not impacting on the end user at all. I found this free download a very useful read.

Design isn't too important

There are many examples of butt ugly sites being pretty damn successful (craigslist being the most obvious example) and plenty of examples of beautiful sites that have crashed and burned (boo.com comes immediately to mind). The fact is if the idea behind your site is appealling, people will come back. If the idea doesn't appeal, it doesn't matter how good looking it is, people will go elsewhere.

One company I worked for redesigned their site about 4 times in one year, in an attempt to get more conversions. I've no idea how much they spent in total but the effect on conversions was pretty minimal, so it was pretty much wasted cash. Every redesign brought a host of new problems that needed fixing, along with pages stored in search engines that no longer existed. Not only that but time spent on those redesigns could have been spent refining and improving what was already there.

Keep focussed

I've never really stuck to this advice (this site covers whatever I can be arsed to write about) but if you want to get people coming back to your site it sure helps if your site covers a single topic, or a few related topics.

Iterate and watch

I come from a software development background and I've always practised a kind of iterative development technique. And I use the same approach when developing websites. Make a small change, see if it works, move on. Unlike software development, when developing websites the 'see if it works' stage doesn't just mean 'make sure it runs OK'. it also requires looking to see how it has affected traffic, so the iterative cycle can be somewhat longer. and to see if it works, you need to have some data. The cheapest tools (i.e free) for this job are Google Analytics and Google Sitemaps, which tell you how many visitors you're getting and what keywords are driving them there, along with heaps of other information.

Take advantage of free advertising

There are plenty of opportunities to get more hits on your site that cost nothing. When I post to a forum and I'm given the opportunity to provide a URL I always do. Of course, posting randomly to forums just to get a link to your site is generally considered as spam and will likely cause more harm than good. Sites like Technorati and digg can drag in more readers and directories related to your site can help pull in yet more eyeballs.

Wait, and wait some more

I have no knowledge of the search engine algorithms but I'm pretty sure, all other things being equal, a site that has been around for 5 years will rank higher than one that's been around for 1 month. So if you just hang around doing nothing, your site should start to get some more hits. I've never really done anything to get hits to doogal.co.uk, but I now get about 200 visitors a week.

Monday, October 02, 2006

PageRank update

I've just noticed that Google seems to have updated PageRanks across my various sites. And finally The Random Pub Finder has got some PageRank! It's been PR0 for about a year, now we are up to PR3. My home page and this blog are both up, wahey!