Monthly Archives: February 2012

A Couple Of Alternatives To Google

For me, Google has its role, but I think its chase for ever more-personalised and more-specific search results is leading it further away from being a useful tool. In the good ol’ days, if a search happened to bring up a lot of low quality sites, I refined my search and tried again.

Now, I get either an echo chamber of stuff Google thinks will appeal to me (read: my demographic), or sites with mediocre content but matching domain names, or completely irrelevant stuff that happens to be local or have a good Page Rank — and trying to get round it with clever rewordings just appears to bring up the same stuff.

In addition to these concerns, I’m not best pleased about Google taking to the courts over patents for things that really shouldn’t be patentable, or the way it handled the whole China thing.

I still use it, because in my opinion it’s still the best search engine out there, but if you can’t find what you want, you want to stick it to some sort of nebulous and ill-defined ‘man’, or you disagree with Google for any reason at all, here are a couple of alternatives to make you feel better.

Alternatives that aren’t Bing or Yahoo, at least not directly.

Blekko

Blekko is a very techy search engine that makes use of slashtags. It’s incredibly flexible, but quite difficult to use to its fullest capacity.

That said, you don’t need to use it to its fullest capacity.

It claims to be “spam free” — it certainly appears to be spam free, to me. Regardless, its results seem to be good quality, it’s easy to use, and if Google have decided to tit about with their algorithms so you can’t find what you need, Blekko appear to me to be a more straight forward, no-nonsense alternative.

Try Blekko.

Everyclick

So named because every ‘click’ results in money being donated to charity. A worthy homepage to have, but it uses Yahoo search to find its results, so it’s not the most original or niche of search engines.

This digital marketing blog suggests that they incurred the wrath of Google a few years ago for being a rival, but the comments imply that it was what SEO types call “duplicate content” that was really to blame. Makes a good story though, eh?

To set it as your homepage in Google Chrome, click the spanner icon in the top right-hand corner of the screen, go to options, select the “Open this page:” part of the form, and enter “http://www.everyclick.com/” there.

Try Everyclick.

While I’m Here

Here are some other links I found this week that I think are interesting, cool, or stupid. I’m probably way late to all these, but I really stopped caring about that many moons ago.

Turtlecalls.

Spry Fox Stand Up For Themselves

Economics Blog. No, I don’t know why I started reading it, but it’s fascinating, sensible-but-lively analysis of economic news with a political slant. No, I still don’t know why I started reading it…

Hey, small posts are much more fun. Wish I could go SLAOW at the moment…

EDIT: I accidentally said everyclick was associated with Ask instead of Yahoo…it hasn’t been associated with Ask since 2008. Sorry!

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Half A Year Of Blogging — What I Learned

I’ve just realised that I’ve come to the end of a half year of blogging every week, often twice a week.

With a total of 32 posts of between 500 — 5000 words each, I can’t help but feel proud of myself. No, quantity alone is not impressive, but I’ve never published a post I wasn’t happy with — at the time.

I’m also always going back and revising old posts so that they read better, whether that’s breaking up long sentences, adding images, or correcting errors in my spelling and grammar. All-in-all, this blog has become quite an obsession, and I think I’ve learned a few things that will only improve it in the future.

1. Keep To A Schedule

Without a regular update to work to, I doubt I would have written a good half of these posts. That isn’t to say that they’re worth less than the posts that came more naturally, either.

Writing to a deadline, I find myself constantly on the lookout for new things to write about, so I take more of an interest in the world — and I sometimes end up with more interesting posts, because of it.

I can’t simply abandon an idea if it doesn’t work, so I take the time to understand what’s really going on behind the idea — what I’m really interested in. I believe that this means I end up with posts that are more honest and more in tune with how you really feel.

It also means I feel more professional. I can point to my regularly-updated blog and say “See that? I can produce writing to a good quality, to a deadline, no matter what I’m dealing with in my day-to-day life.”

That’s no small thing.

Surreal Clock Spiral

It's not actually as difficult as this image would suggest.

2. Don’t Overpost

When I first started writing this blog, I was posting huge posts to it at least two times a week. That’s great, and I know that some people could make it work, but in conjunction with everything happening offline, it would have driven me insane.

It’s also a waste.

Writing good blog posts two times a week meant that my readers were unlikely to read both posts. This isn’t just a theory, the traffic stats back me up here. That means that one of those posts was, not quite a waste of my time, but not quite as worthy of my time as it should have been.

You don’t even need to worry about ‘losing the idea’. If you think you really have to write about something right there and then, WordPress can simply schedule your post to be published later on. That way, you don’t end up with a flurry of posts and then an anxious silence lasting for months.

Posting twice a week also meant that I was hesitant to promote my blog via. social media. We all know the archetype of the overzealous self-promoter, and on Twitter and Facebook the threat of becoming that person yourself is very real.

I’m fairly sure I’m not in danger of falling into that trap, and neither is anyone else I know, but a thousand lazy Collegehumor infographics have alerted me to the possibility of being perceived that way.

3. Read Widely

The more blogs you read,  the more likely you are to find a kindred spirit.

It’s as simple as that, but the feeling of finding someone who shares some or all of your world experience and views in the vast mire of the internet is invaluable. The idea that you should get something besides that feeling from socialising online, such as extra viewers or followers, is appealing, but it shouldn’t be nearly so important.

Extra viewers make your blog feel more important in the short term, while getting a real feeling of satisfaction, community and social engagement will make you feel much more committed to, and passionate about, your blog.

4. Keep Posts Short

Keeping posts to under about a thousand words has worked much better for me than my longer labours of love. No-one coming to a random guy’s website is going to give them the benefit of the doubt when they see four thousand words of dense text and weird images.

It’s also easier to sum up what your post is about, and thus get more views from people who don’t personally know you, if it’s short.

5. Write What You Want

I’ve really enjoyed writing for this blog this past year, and I owe that entirely to the fact that I’ve written whatever I’ve felt like at the time. Forcing yourself to continue with a blog post that you’ve lost faith in can kill the sense that you’re writing something that is completely yours — because once you’ve lost faith in your material, it just isn’t completely yours any more.

I think this is the most important point of all for a personal blog — even successful commercial bloggers like RT Cunningham of Untwisted Vortex come back to this point again and again. If you can’t enjoy what you write, the urge to write goes, no matter what secondary rewards you might get from it.

That’s all I’ve really learned about blogging from some half a year. It might apply to you, it might not. It’s not an impressive amount to have learned, but the achievement of having made it this far is more than enough, as far as  I’m concerned.

You have enjoyed reading about me writing about me writing my blog. Yes, yes, indeed you have. Image by Alexandre  Duret-Lutz under this Creative Commons License.

Snap, back to this rhapsody.

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Learning With Old Friends

I recently got back from a trip back home, and I was lucky enough to run into an old friend. I’d been worried that he was dodging my calls and avoiding me, but it turned out it was all a wacky misunderstanding such as two socially inept blokes are prone to have.

I can only have spent a couple of hours in his company, but those two hours meant a lot. Sometimes, we get too focused on the direction our lives are going in. We think that everything is set, that our talents and skill-sets and characters are as rigid and inflexible as a job application sheet tells us they are.

With my old friend, though, and the amazing things he’d done with his year (including building his own guitar, setting himself up as a professional guitar teacher, and starting an amazing band), I realised that there are always more options open to you.

It wasn’t just the skills he displayed that inspired me, though. It was the faith he had that if I wanted to, I could veer from the path I was on and be teaching bass guitar within the year.

It became increasingly difficult to argue with his relentless logic, and although I’m not about to drop everything I’m doing and sell my soul at the crossroads, it was a revelation to think suddenly, after years of trying to find one thing that I could do well, hey, if I put the time in, I could do anything.

Paths diverging in a wood.

Hey, this picture looks to be some type of mettyfor. Nope, too subtle for me...

Well, almost anything.

Anything that doesn’t involve heavy lifting, or a steady hand, or a keen eye, or a head for complex mathematics, or science, or specific types of writing that I’ve not done before, or instruments more difficult than an elastic band stapled to a shoebox.

The basic point is sound, though.

Everyone I know has so much potential, it seems like a waste to focus on just one thing, to say “this is their one skill, and this is all they are”.

Whether they’re a novelist who thinks their wonderful poetry isn’t good enough to make them a poet, or a skilled craftsman who thinks they could never work freelance with their programming skills, or a doctor who wouldn’t dream of charging for their photos, I have many friends and relatives who are immensely talented and don’t, or won’t, even realise it.

I don’t want to hector anyone from the safety of my blog, though, so I won’t do that. Sometimes it’s just nice to keep something that’s not to impress others, something that’s just for you, sometimes one overwhelming interest takes up all your time — there’s all sorts of reasons to keep your other talents on the down-low.

So instead, I’ll just use this post to celebrate the hobbies, the side-projects, the skills that we all have that we think could never be “proper talents”, not like those people in the books and at the award ceremonies, not like those people who charge money for their services.

Because many of the amateurs and part-time somethings I know and love are at least as good as most professionals, or could definitely reach that standard if they focused on their hobby, and it’s important to give these things the respect that they deserve.

May or may not have been a little drunk as I wrote this post. Image by Bryan Bennett, who is not the doctor I was talking about.

Technically difficult. I guess.

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The Strange Things I’ll Never Get Used To About Facebook

In a fit of vague and undirected outrage over some issues I didn’t fully understand, which is more or less my default position when it comes to anything, I deleted my facebook account a few years ago.

I successfully resisted all attempts to get me back into facebook for a (very) good year, but it was inevitable that I’d come crawling back at some point. The way society works at the moment simply doesn’t allow most people my age to (a) have friends, and (b) not use facebook.

When, eventually, I gave up explaining to people that I wasn’t just fobbing them off, I genuinely didn’t have a facebook account, and to stop bothering the random bloke in Alabama who happened to have the same name as me, I reluctantly got back on facebook.

Straight away, one thing struck me about the ‘new’ facebook: nothing has changed. All of the most bizarre things about social networking, which I assumed would have been ironed out as people got more net-savvy over time, have if anything become exaggerated over time.

I enjoy facebook now, mostly because the people I know on it are more interesting than the people I knew last time around, but it still weirds me out, mostly because of things like…

Ridiculously Vague Status Updates

It’s OK.

I get it, I do.

Your friend pissed you off, and you want to let them know, but you don’t want to look like a bastard when the whole thing blows over, and you certainly don’t want to get into a big old embarrassing argument on facebook.

But when all the updates consist of comments like “Don’t you just hate that feeling of total betrayal?”, or “Not talking to (X). They know why.”, I just get this feeling that maybe it’d be better to start actually talking to the person involved. I have no idea whatsoever what these people are talking about, consistently, and I don’t really need it. If I wanted a general sense of low-level negativity, passive-aggression and unhappiness, I’d eat at a Little Chef.

Luckily none of my friends do this sort of thing, but it’s very weird when you effectively get copied in on someone else’s dramatic arguments and have absolutely no idea why.

Too Much Information

Now, this isn’t even about the way people use Facebook. I have no problem with people sharing what kind of phone they have, or what they ate for lunch. I’m essentially a very boring person — I’m genuinely interested in the types of muffin that might be available at  your local supermarket, and I’m even more interested in how delicious, or otherwise, they might be.

This is about Facebook itself.

Whenever the eyes of someone I know so much as alight upon a newspaper page they have found through facebook, I am informed of it automatically.

Why is this?

I know more about the reading habits of distant acquaintances than I do about my dear ma’ herself. What possible advantage could this confer to me as a user of facebook?

Meanwhile, the updates that I’ve actually requested, from bands and organisations that I actually want to keep track of, are nowhere to be found.

Total Lack Of Control

With most sites, you have some option to control how you are perceived, what data ends up where, and so on.

With facebook, things like the timeline update being implemented without your consent are commonplace. It’s a repeating pattern of total disregard for the user, and for whatever reason, everyone appears to end up fundamentally alright with it, barring a little impotent grumbling.

You can’t control what you see based on what your interests are without investing ridiculous amounts of time, and everything that you do on the site is carefully recorded and used to sell advertising. If someone uploads a photo of you, you’re basically boned if you don’t like it. If you have an odd name, even, facebook can delete your account without any argument and stop you from making a new one.

This is a really strange way to run a website. Yet it works.

More to the point, I don’t even care. Facebook could announce an update tomorrow that forced 20% of their users to post sexually explicit updates once every fortnight, and I’d probably just shrug and carry on as normal.

That’s probably the strangest thing of all about facebook: the way I interact with it. I don’t understand how I become so passive and accepting the second I see that soothing blue logo, and it freaks me right the hell out.

Image by Lawton Chiles. Look at this thing. No, over here. Wait, wait, wait, I mean here. This blog is not endorsed or approved by facebook in anyway. Now that’s a naturally-flowing post, no? No clumsily inserted disclaimer THERE.

Note: I’m planning to spin off the metal section of this blog into its own thing as soon as I have time, plus a few other changes.

We so may dela from neka dum neka freaaay.

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5 Reasons Why I Love Terrorizer Magazine

Find Terrorizer here.

1. The Writing

My one complaint about the excellent writing in Terrorizer is this: occasionally the reviewers get a little carried away and become excitable and over-eloquent.

And this is a Good Thing.

That’s how music fans are supposed to get.

Reading some painfully self-conscious music review dither over whether this album represents a truly original sound, or how much such-and-such a band owe to Wire or Suede is dull.

Similarly, so is reading overhyped marketing guff about the latest flash-in-the-pan bullshit band (a certain magazine beginning with “K” and ending with “ng”), or why anything different from thrash or heavy metal is hipster trash for silly young people.

I want to see the words spilling out onto the paper as the reviewer listens raptly (or in dumbstruck horror, as the case may be) to the passionate outpouring of someone else’s consciousness.

I want to feel the spit and halitosis of an over-enthusiastic fan (or hater) crystallising on my cheek.

Terrorizer fulfils that function, and for that I thank it.

2. The Free C.D.

Oh god, the free C.D.

Back when I had an hour and a half to two hour commute to work every day, those C.D.s stopped me going mad more than once. They don’t just have good tracks on them, but they’re very cleverly lined up so that similar tracks are grouped together, and the genres flow into each other so that you’ve gone from crust punk to weird electronic hybrid shit (pun intended) like this without really noticing the seams.

That’s damn clever, and I think it deserves some recognition.

Also, Zonderhoof’s album ruled.

And kinda reminded me of Stinking Lizaveta, one of my favourite bands ever, so there’s that too.

3. Getting It Right

The reviews, and scores, in Terrorizer are, for me, incredibly accurate. Stick to the four and five bar rated bands, and you’ll barely ever go wrong.

This is in part because they always say what they really think. It doesn’t matter if a band is taking part in a dominant feature in the same issue, or if the reviewer met them and really thinks that they’re awesome dudes/total douchebags, or if they’re part of a credible/credibility-challenged genre. The writers will give a carefully considered review that never goes for sensationalist evisceration, bandwagon-hopping or hype.

Sure, they’re only opinions, but those opinions are so well fleshed-out and supported that it’s almost impossible to get the wrong impression of an album from a Terrorizer review.

Do you have any idea how hard that is to find in a music magazine?

Very. It’s very hard.

4. Its Sense Of Humour

Occult comedian Andrew O’Neill is employed to be one of the least funny things in an issue of Terrorizer.

That a professional comedian can fail to amuse me as much as a good feature is, I think, more of a good reflection on the editing team than a bad reflection on the comedian. Writing comedy is difficult. I gave up, ooh, months ago, and I never quite cracked it.

A dry wit runs through most of the articles, but it isn’t just the writing that gives the magazine its sense of humour. In fact, it’s more often that I find a subtle twist from the editing team has me in a mental fit of the giggles (of course, my external facade remains grim and true, as a warrior’s must).

5. Delving Deeper

Not content with mere reporting and reviews, Terrorizer is keen to present and sometimes partially dissect the various philosophies that form the foundations of the various metal cults and kvlts that have sprung up over the years. From acerbic socio-political commentary, to musings on the nature of free will, to what appear to me to be childish declarations that everything is shit and you suck too, all are treated with equal seriousness.

They’re also examined with an intelligence and sensitivity that is all too rare throughout journalism. In Terrorizer, metal celebrities are treated with respect, sure, but difficult ideas are confronted. Reporters rarely make utterly final decisions one way or another, but that’s what I like most about Terrorizer, I think (if I can get a cheeky number 6?) — it’s open-minded to the extreeeeeeme.

I just really liked this month’s Terrorizer, that’s why. Buy their mag and help them to keep doing what they’re doing!

badadadadowdadadowdadadowwheeedownananow

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