Friday, December 24, 2010

A full year’s worth of blog post ideas

I got this brilliant idea from Chris Whitely a few years ago. You can literally buy 365 fantastic niche-specific blog post ideas, in a single pack. All you have to do is tear off the top page and write about whatever it says, each & every day. Don’t copy them word for word, just use them as your springboard to get you started.

And if you know a blogger that is struggling with ideas for what to write about, it would make the perfect holiday gift. Just be sure to point out that it’s a blog-post-idea-a-day pack, because it might not be that obvious to them to use it for that purpose.

To make it easier for you, I dug up these from amazon.com. If you have a blog related to any of these topics or want to start one, these will be perfect for you.

 

61RQw rBBsL._SL160_ 61etVgXFYML._SL160_ 61RnuX137vL._SL160_

51sC67dlIyL._SL160_ 51MtwdHcgaL._SL160_ 51GnGh2Wh4L._SL160_

517yB80S2nL._SL160_ 51ikRDND8AL._SL160_ 517 rVA6hkL._SL160_

51tSamEgtDL._SL160_ 61p5SsQzpmL._SL160_ 51xfeh 01iL._SL160_

51HYRYjz6gL._SL160_ 51hEYGjCQlL._SL160_

Yes, they are affiliate links and Amazon will throw me a few cents if you buy through my links, but it won't cost you any more than if you had just gone to the site and found the calendars on your own. And if none of these calendars interest you or you don't like the prices, you are free to look elsewhere.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Single Most Important Book I Was Ever Exposed To

Ed Emberley's Make a World When I was a kid, Ed Emberley's Make a World was a library book that my younger sister and I monopolized. One of us would check it out, and keep it for as long as possible, renewing it for the maximum number of times allowed. Then the other would grab it before the librarian could put it back on the shelf, and repeat the process.

We did this for years. I am really surprised my parents never bought us a copy, but to their credit, they remembered this and bought my daughter a copy when she was about 5 years old.

Ed Emberley teaches that if you can draw a few basic shapes (circle, square, triangle, lines, dots, and a few numbers and letters), you can draw anything that you can imagine. From building a heart shape from two circles and a triangle to more complicated things like castles, dragons, and even the Canadian flag, Ed shows how easy it really is.

But it's not "just a drawing book"...it's a whole lot more. It's a child's first technical how-to manual. It sets them on the right path for acquiring the skills needed to self-educate.

Ed Emberley's Drawing Book: Make A World

Image by Austin Kleon via Flickr

It's really good for teaching kids how to follow step-by-step instructions, especially ones that contain no text...a skill that will come in handy later in life if they have to build IKEA furniture.

It also teaches a valuable life skill by changing how you look at the world. It teaches that anything in life that seems too complicated and hard to do, is made much easier when you analyze it and break it down into much simpler parts. The earlier in life a child learns this, the more doors will be open to them, and the list of possibilities greatly increased.

It's not enough to tell a child that they can accomplish anything in life that they set their mind to. They need to be taught how, and this book is a great place to start.

 

Purchasing this book through my Amazon affiliate link will not increase your price and is a great way to show your appreciation to me for introducing you to this book.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

CaSe Matters

abc Budding young web designers and developers usually learn this pretty quick, when creating a page on Windows and not using the same case as the files and folders they are linking to. They often will use lowercase in all the URLs, regardless of the case of the actual file and folder names. And this will work fine when viewed on their Windows machine. But as soon as they upload it to a server that is running something else, like Linux, it stops working. Their page is full of broken images and dead links, because they used something like mypicture.jpg in place of the actual file name of MyPicture.jpg and about.html in place of the actual file name of About.html.

Or they upload an Index.html and wonder why when they visit their site they still see the default index.html page provided by their web host and why when they check on the server there are now two index files and not one.

For the domain name part of the URL it doesn't matter. That part is not case sensitive.

example.com is the same as Example.com is the same as EXAMPLE.com

For the rest of the URL it could matter, depending on what operating system is being run on the server that is hosting the site.

 

windows-logo_c If the server is running Windows, case doesn't matter. The reason for this is because you can only have a single file or folder of a particular name in a folder, regardless of the case used in that file or folder name.

index.html is the same as Index.html is the same as INDEX.html

All three will lead to the same page.

In Windows, adding a file or folder of the same name with a different case to a folder, overwrites the original. Only one can exist.

 

linux-penguin-full1_2If the server is running Linux, case matters, as you can have multiple files and folders of the same name within a folder, each having a different case.

index.html is not the same as Index.html and not the same as INDEX.html

In Linux adding a file or folder of the same name with a different case to a folder, does not overwrite the original. Linux will allow all three to exist in a folder, and each are considered different. If you change the case of a file or folder in the URL path and the server is running Linux, and that variation does not actually exist on the server, it will result in a 404.

And if you upload a file of the same name but a different case, it will not overwrite the original. You will have both on the server, and lowercase is the default index file. This is the reason why the place holder index.html supplied by your web host is still seen, even though you have uploaded your Index.html file, and why you see two index files when you view it in your FTP client.

 

It is always best to assume the server runs Linux when creating links to pages on the web and when typing URLs into the addressbar of your browser. It is the only way to ensure that if case matters, that you are using the correct URL.

It is also best to use all lowercase in the folder and file names of your website when creating the files and folders, regardless of what operating system you are using locally. Always assume the site will be run on a server that is case sensitive. That way there is a set standard of practice you follow that leaves less room for error.

Step 1, before you begin coding, should always be to fix all your file and folder names so you won't have to worry about it later.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Free Art Download: Blame Game (CC-BY)

sample
What you get: This image, about twice the size, without the watermark text, on a transparent background, in both PNG and PSP vector formats.

Released under a Creative Commons Attribution license, suitable for personal, non-commercial, and commercial use.

This item has been moved to my art site.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Free Image: Instant Photo (CC-BY)

instant-photo-sample
What you get:

This image (drop shadow is included), about twice the size, without the text, on a transparent background, in both PNG and layered PSP formats.

On the layered PSP, you can easily insert the image of your choice over the black area.

Released under a Creative Commons Attribution license, suitable for personal, non-commercial, and commercial use.

This item has been moved to my art site.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Thank you, Henry Ford, for another fine product.

Charcoal_bagHenry Ford didn't waste anything. Wood and sawdust byproducts from automobile fabrication were used to make charcoal.

While he didn't invent the charcoal briquette (Ellsworth B. A. Zwoyer did, in 1897), he did found the Ford Charcoal company, which later became the Kingsford Company.

When E.G. Kingsford, a relative of Ford's, brokered the site selection for Ford's new charcoal manufacturing plant, Ford Charcoal was renamed to Kingsford, in his honor.

Creative thinking and frugality turned a waste disposal problem into a money making opportunity, leading to the founding of a company that today manufactures about 80% of the charcoal briquettes sold in the US, and recycling about 1 million tons of wood scraps, each year.

Thanks to Henry Ford being such a frugal guy, and a smart one at that, Americans have come to enjoy the ritual tradition of going outside on a beautiful summer day and cooking our food there, with a smoky barbeque, rather than in our kitchens and heating up the whole house.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bit.ly is Harmful to Your Reputation

It all started with a simple innocent tweet. As Vivek Wadhwa was finishing up his excellent post on outsourcing he tweeted about it and I replied with a tweet of my own:

my original tweet

Note the URL I tweeted to him was shortened using the xrl.in service.

Now, Vivek is a TweetDeck user, and TweetDeck uses bit.ly to shorten links, even links that don't need shortening, like mine. So what do you think happened when he retweeted me and responded?

Vivek's retweet

That's right, my already shortened link was reshortened with bit.ly.

Now what do you think you see when you click that link? The site I was trying to link to?

No, you see a warning page that implies that my original link leads to a malware, phishing, spam, or forgery site.

bitly-warning

So my link to a reputable site is being called a bad site by bit.ly because I used a competing URL shortening service in my original tweet.

Note that there is an email link to report mistakes on bit.ly's warning page. What do you think happens when you click it and report a mistake? Do they check the link and remove the flag if the site is ok?

No, they don't. They told me to make a new bit.ly link and give it out to people, as if that would undo the damage that was done, change the links in other people's tweets, and prevent others from retweeting the bad reputation damaging bit.ly link that I never made in the first place.

Then they apologized and told me some day their service will be better, still not removing the reputation damaging flag from the link.

bitly-email

Can something like this affect you and your website? You bet it can.

If you or anyone else ever tweets a link to your site using a competing URL shortening service, and that link gets retweeted with any twitter client that shortens all URLs with bit.ly (whether they need it or not) the resulting link to your site will be flagged as a bad site.

What happens when the average person clicks that link and sees that warning page? Well, the average person believes it and won't visit your site. And if your name is on the original tweet, it will also be on the retweet, giving you the reputation of passing out links to bad sites.

Will a smart web savvy user believe the bit.ly warning page? Maybe, maybe not. But the average person probably will. As a developer I have seen the average person believe a lot of things that were not true, placing their complete trust in things like that bit.ly page and other false positives, and believing the worst, even spreading the word about it as if it were the truth, telling others that a website or application was harmful. They think that companies don't do things like this without ironclad proof, so they believe every word of it.

What alarms me the most is the attitude of bit.ly with regards to this problem and how they refuse to remove the flag from innocent links. They don't care if your reputation is damaged.

And it is in the best interest of bit.ly not to fix the problem, since it makes more people use their service, worried that if they use another service and get retweeted, they could end up with a reputation damaging link to their site. So this whole problem serves to make more people use bit.ly, out of fear, rather than convenience or because they have a better service.

I am not a bit.ly user because it is not convenient for me. I have a browser plugin that uses xrl.in, that with a single click of a button, copies the shortened link to whatever page I am on to my clipboard, ready to paste anywhere I want.

Other links in the stuff I tweet use ff.im, because they are cross-posts from friendfeed. I was pretty sure if I post something on friendfeed, cross-posted to twitter and it gets retweeted, reshortened with bit.ly, it will result in one of those warning pages, too.

But I was wrong, it doesn't. In fact, there are a few other shorteners that don't get warning pages either, probably because they are so popular that they would get noticed pretty quick if bit.ly decided to pick on them.

Bit.ly does white list the following shorteners:

  • ff.im
  • youtu.be
  • goo.gl

There is no reason why bit.ly can't white list the rest of the popular shorteners if they can white list those. But those others are competing services and they don't feel like being nice guys about it. They would rather ruin the reputations of innocent people like you and me.

So what can you do to ensure you won't become a victim of bit.ly's "bad site" interstitial page?

There are only 2 things you can do:

1. Always use bit.ly to shorten your links and make sure everyone else in the world does too. (highly impractical, because you can't control what other people do.)

2. Let bit.ly know this is unacceptable. Tell them to play fair and white list the other shorteners. The choice of url shortener you use should be yours and not theirs, and you should not be punished with a reputation damaging warning page because you use a competing service. (easy to do)

  • Send them an email: support@bit.ly
  • Tweet them: @bitly
  • Spread the word by tweeting this post
  • Share this post on social networking sites
  • Blog about it
  • Tell your friends

Don't stop making noise about this till bit.ly stops damaging the reputations of innocent people.

 


UPDATE May 8, 2010: Bit.ly has changed their interstitial page, slightly. Instead of the top banner saying "WARNING - visiting this website may harm your computer" it now says "Stop - there might be a problem with the requested link"

But it goes on to say

  • Some URL-shorteners re-use their links, so bit.ly can't guarantee the validity of this link.
  • Some URL-shorteners allow their links to be edited, so bit.ly can't tell where this link will lead you.
  • Spam and malware is very often propagated by exploiting these loopholes, neither of which bit.ly allows for.


The link you requested may contain inappropriate content, or even spam or malicious code that could be downloaded to your computer without your consent, or may be a forgery or imitation of another website, designed to trick users into sharing personal or financial information.

bitly-warning-new

I still consider this unacceptable. If bit.ly can detect a shortened link at the time someone clicks, they can detect it at the time someone submits it for shortening, and just not allow it. That page is completely unnecessary and can still be damaging to someone's reputation.

 

Come on, bit.ly, just do the right thing! How hard is it to just not reshorten?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Tons of Free Stock Photo Sites – Commercial Use OK – No Attribution Required

When you are a blogger, web designer, developer, or creating a product for resale, you might need photos for your posts, templates, and other designs, but you can't just use any photo you find on the internet. That would most likely violate someone's copyright and get you into a heap of legal trouble.

So what are you supposed to do if you don't have a camera or any photography talent?

Stock photos? Sounds good, but most stock photos cost money.

Creative Commons licensed photos from Flickr? That could be good too, but that requires a link back and there may be restrictions against commercial use. Can you imagine having to put a long Flickr URL on every t-shirt and mousepad you make?  How would you go about giving proper credit on a small 125x125 ad? And if you are making web templates it might not be the best idea to trust people that use your templates to keep the attribution links intact.

So where can you get a whole bunch of great photos to use, that don't require an attribution link, won't cost you a dime, and allow for commercial use, too?

Fortunately for you, I have done some research into this and found quite a few sources.

Screenshot - 3_27_2010 , 5_16_30 AM  Fotolia has a section on their site where they give away free stock photos. The selection is limited, but they change the photos offered on a regular basis. Good for web use. Files must not be displayed in a size bigger than 640x480 pixels. Can not be used in items meant for resale (no printed t-shirts, web templates, etc). Free membership is required.

Screenshot - 3_27_2010 , 5_18_37 AM  freestockphotos.biz has tons of photos with varying licenses, many of which allow for commercial use, including items meant for resale. Check the license terms included on the page with each photo.
Screenshot - 3_27_2010 , 5_20_34 AM  BurningWell.org has nothing but public domain photos. You can do anything you please with them, including items for resale.

Screenshot - 3_27_2010 , 5_23_11 AM  Crestock gives away one free stock photo each week. If you hit the site every week, you can build quite a nice collection. Sometimes they even give away a vector instead of a photo. All material they give away is covered by their standard license agreement. Free membership is required.
Screenshot - 3_27_2010 , 5_25_30 AM  Free Media Goo provides free images, audio files, textures and flash files that you can pretty much do whatever you please with them except use them in propaganda, pornography, or anything suggestive, according to their license.
Screenshot - 3_27_2010 , 5_26_39 AM  freerangestock offers photos you can use for just about anything. They request that you give credit, but they also say it isn't required if you don't want to. There is a credit and link requirement if you use their photos as part of a web template, though.
Screenshot - 3_27_2010 , 5_27_59 AM  Image*After lets you do anything you want with their photos, as long as you don't use them to set up a stock photo site that competes with theirs.
Screenshot - 3_27_2010 , 5_29_21 AM iStockPhoto gives away one free stock photo each week, under their standard license. They also give away a free vector, video file, and audio track each month. Free membership is required.

Screenshot - 3_27_2010 , 5_31_46 AM  Morguefile has some very generous license terms that even allow you to sell the images, as images, as long as you have altered it so that it isn't identical to the original.
Screenshot - 3_27_2010 , 5_32_59 AM  PDPhoto.org has some really nice images that you can do whatever you please with, as they are all dedicated to the public domain. There are a few sections containing photos that are not public domain, but that collection is a rather small part of the site.
Screenshot - 3_27_2010 , 5_34_00 AM  Photogen has images that are good for the standard commercial uses that don't involve redistribution or printing on products for sale.
Screenshot - 3_27_2010 , 5_36_21 AM  Photo Rack says there are no limitations on the use of their images.
Screenshot - 3_27_2010 , 5_37_23 AM  Pixel Perfect Digital has lots of great images, but you can't use them for items for sale or redistribution, and that includes not using them in web templates.
Screenshot - 3_27_2010 , 5_38_40 AM 
Public-Domain-Photos.com has images you can do anything you want with, no restrictions.
Screenshot - 3_27_2010 , 5_39_44 AM 
PublicDomainPictures.net is a repository for free public domain photos. You can do anything you want with them, but keep in mind that none of the photos have model or property releases. If you want that type of photo, they do sell some cheap, in the bottom section of the main page.
Screenshot - 3_27_2010 , 5_41_22 AM  Unprofound.com was created by designers, for designers and will pretty much let you do anything with their photos except redistribute them as stock photos. The only payment they want is the pleasure of knowing what their work has become. All they want in return is to be able to see what you have done with them, which means either sending them a photo of your product, screenshot of your software, link to your website or template, or whatever other way you can show them what their images have become part of.





Norebbo has some great 3D renderings that would be perfect for illustrating technology related blog posts, creating web templates, Powerpoint presentations, and many other types of projects. The free images are ENORMOUS compared to similar free images offered by other artists. Norebbo has some very generous terms of use for his free images, too. You may use them any way you wish, except redistributing them, as-is. And while a link back to his site is appreciated, it is not required. And if you need even larger versions than Norebbo is offering for free, you can buy them in his shop.
Screenshot - 7_25_2013 , 9_07_04 PM Stock.xchng offers lots of high quality stock photos, free of charge. Their licensing terms allow for commercial use, with only a few limitations. If you'd like to use a photo for certain uses (web templates, print on demand items, etc.), you will have to contact the photographer and ask for permission, first. Some photos also require you to notify the photographer that you plan on using it for something that will be displayed, publicly. So, for example, if you plan on using it for a blog post, contact the photographer and give him a link to your post, so he can see it. Some photos may have additional terms, set by the photographer. Check the page before downloading. And be sure to rate and leave comments on the photos you use. Photographers love getting feedback on their work. Free membership is required.

Do you know of a stock photo site that I might have missed that will allow you to use their images commercially, without attribution? Leave me a link in a comment.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Free Music Download: New Century Classics – Natural Process

I came across this great post-rock album on my travels yesterday.

It's from a Polish band called New Century Classics.

Every track is great, from the first to the last. This is how music was meant to be. It's not like the albums produced by most of the artists signed to the major labels where it is one or two good tracks and the rest are just filler.

This is all good.

And it gets better…

The artist allows you to name your price and pay what you think it is worth, including $0.00 if you don't want to pay or are not quite ready to support their work just yet. And it's high quality audio files. Not only can you name your price, you can choose your file format and bitrate, too! You get your choice of 320k mp3, FLAC, OGG, AAC, and more.

So take a listen and then go get the album.

 

<a href="http://newcenturyclassics.bandcamp.com/album/natural-process">Post-Cards by New Century Classics</a>

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Become a Jazz Fan

00007194 I wasn’t born a jazz fan, but I did form an instant “addiction” at age 13. How does that happen to some one?
So you heard some music you liked and were told it was jazz, and you wanted to hear more, and you did. Bang! You’re a jazz fan!
But that wasn’t the whole story. Many years later you wound up with a collection of thousands of albums by ten times that many musicians. And now you’re a serious jazz fan. “Back in the day”, that was a hit or miss proposition, but now there’s a mountain of resources to get you there. So here is the shortcut path.
First, there’s radio. Chances are your area doesn’t have much jazz radio on the FM band, although there are many full-time jazz stations around the world. Many colleges in the US support part-time jazz programming, and if you live near a college or university, that may be a resource. Fortunately, many of these stations are also on the Internet and you can find them from New York to Vladivostok and Tokyo and many cities in between, all in a day’s search (or less). My smart phone has an application called WunderRadio [sic] that can pick up in excess of 35,000 Internet stations (I have managed to bookmark 27 full-time jazz stations, without having to even look hard).
Unfortunately, fulltime jazz stations are usually listener supported and consequently have to appeal to the largest possible audience. As a result they tend to exclude almost all but the most widely popular music, which is not always the “best” in jazz.
If you truly want to broaden your interest, you must dig deeper. One example of true excellence is WKCR (www.wkcr.org Columbia University) that has had continuous jazz programming since the 1940’s (the oldest jazz station in America). Although they only broadcast jazz on a part-time basis, their programming covers the entire spectrum, and they run many specials where they sometimes focus on a single player for 24 hours straight or more. Their music is streamed over the Internet, and they also have archived music for your listening enjoyment.
Screenshot - 2_7_2010 , 12_21_39 PM Another good starting point, www.allaboutjazz.com describes itself as the web’s premier resource for jazz-they are, without question, the largest Internet site devoted entirely to the music. They publish news and reviews and conduct forums and include a streaming service. AllAboutJazz also publishes an excellent hard copy jazz newspaper that you can subscribe to for the cost of postage. Like WKCR, they believe in a full spectrum approach.
Internet jazz pages seem almost endless-and not just American music. Run searches for German Jazz, French jazz, Japanese jazz…-you’ll be amazed by how many countries you can come up with. Two of my favorites are Norway and Poland where jazz has really taken hold in a big way.
Many musicians and groups now have their own web page, and, if you develop any favorites, be sure to look them up. In some cases you will find samples of their music along with complete discographies of all the albums they have performed on.
You can also find tons of material on sub-genres of the music, all the way from Dixieland to free jazz and the avant garde…and, subjects you might think would be obscure, like who was the most famous bass clarinet player in jazz or what was The October Revolution of 1964. The answers to these and a myriad of other questions are usually covered in extreme and extraordinary detail.
There are also numerous discussion groups on the Internet devoted to jazz where you can meet other fans and musicians and chat about the music. Some of them can be quite informative, and you will also have a chance to ask knowledgeable people direct questions to broaden your understanding and interests. The largest and most active of these forums that I am aware of is on Amazon.com.
Screenshot - 2_7_2010 , 12_24_23 PM Want to read a book? You could start with Jazz For Dummies by Dirk Sutro . Beyond that, there are history books galore and encyclopedias, some of which categorize the music by sub-genres with discographies bursting from every page. If you need an exercise program and you don’t mind weight-lifting, you might want to build a reference library.
Here are some books I have found useful over the years:

Vladimir Bogdanov - All Music Guide to jazz
Alyn Shipton - A New History of jazz
Ian Carr - Jazz The Rough Guide
Nat Hentoff - Jazz Is
Bill Kirchner – The Oxford Companion To Jazz
Leonard Feather – The Biographical Encyclopedia of jazz
Even if you don’t read them, a collection like this will impress the hell out of any vagrant musicians who happen to be visiting you.
So, after all these years, what are the resources I use most? Well, for one thing, whenever I run across a new musician I particularly like, I check out the other members of his group to see what they’ve recorded. I also look into what other musicians they have previously played with.
My smart phone also has two Internet stations I find invaluable: LastFM and Pandora. With both of these you can create your own “stations” by feeding in the names of a few musicians you like. These websites then stream back to you music that is similar to that played by the musicians you selected, often introducing you to players you never heard of that match your taste perfectly! (Personally, I think that what appeals to me about jazz is that it expresses the entire range of human emotion-the good, the bad, and the ugly-on a truly grand scale.)
And last, but not least, there’s live jazz. I live near New York City so it’s easy for me to find entertainment that suits my tastes. I don’t travel much, but I still attend a festival occasionally where large groups of musicians get together to play-sometimes as long as a week or more at a time. Most large cities today have at least a club or two where live jazz can be heard. Some even have “house bands” that perform regularly.
Jazz musicians often find it difficult to make a living and many of them teach at local schools or take on individual students. In any case I feel these guys deserve whatever support I can give them. They have given me so much.
Oh, and in case you are wondering how a jazz musician can end up with a million dollars? The answer is, by starting out with ten million dollars.


dan-bresnahanThis has been a guest post by Dan Bresnahan. Follow him on Twitter or Friendfeed and let him know if his article has helped you. You can also read and subscribe to his blog, Out to Lunch Jazz.