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Top ten reasons I'm looking forward to the Mayan end of the world:

Date/Time Permalink: 12/18/12 03:53:54 pm
Category: Humor

Well, folks, it was a nice run, but it had to close out sometime. Let us take a lesson from Monty Python's Life of Brian and always look on the bright side of life as we whistle our way to world-ending weltschmerz.

Top ten reasons I'm looking forward to the Mayan end of the world:

  • (10) Microsoft Windows will FINALLY start working as well as other operating systems.
  • (9) No longer have to worry about what happens when the Unix calendar ends in 2038.
  • (8) I can bring my Rapture Catapult back out of mothballs.
  • (7) I'd rather face that feathered-snake thing the Mayans worshipped than that God guy.
  • (6) W3C finished the HTML5 specification just in time for it not to matter.
  • (5) I have plenty of practice rebuilding civilization from scratch through years of Minecraft addiction.
  • (4) What the hell, I'd already given up on ever having a flying car anyway.
  • (3) Now there will be plenty of IPv4 addresses to go around!
  • (2) At least we made it past Y2K!
  • (1) Threesome with Cthulhu!

BONUS BUCK: Sysadmins ask "Proper shutdown policy for the end of the world?"

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Website Owners Go On Using SEO For The Same Reason Your Grandma Still Uses AOL

Date/Time Permalink: 12/05/12 02:50:52 pm
Category: General

Allow me to put on my freelancer's hat for a minute and talk about something not only relevant to technology, but to my business as an online content creator...

A little while back, Forbes took notice of the tech entrepreneur world with an article on the "death" of SEO.

Every word in that article is spot-on, dead accurate, worthy of being proclaimed from the rooftops. Except the title. Because, contrary to all common sense, SEO, like a Lovecraft Eldritch multi-dimensional horror, will never die.

I've pointed out many times that the very premise of SEO is to game search engines, and search engines exist to find genuine content, not "optimized" content. So the very minute you start thinking of SEO for your website, you're beginning a war with the Internet, trying to steal their time redirecting them from the content they wanted to the sales-pages you want them to see. There is no such thing as "white hat SEO". It's like saying you're practicing "legal tax evasion".

"Common sense, but not common practice" indeed. Note the footer of that article where a hundred SEO cranks post flames back at the author and he caves a little, because Forbes is still a business with face to save, after all.

But I stand by every word of that article as originally envisioned, even if he doesn't. There are no "bad parts" to SEO. It is all bad, 100.1% of it. The Venn diagram is shaped like a circle.

That's why I never take any job offer for producing content for anybody who so much as mentions SEO or any of the associated buzzwords: "keywords", "SERP", "density", "meta tags", "backlinks", "landing page", and so on. Not for any amount of money, not for sexual favors from Hollywood starlets, would I do this. I'm too stinking proud, and besides, the kind of wingnut crank who blathers on about this meta-tag voodoo and keyword-density astrology is the kind of person of low morals and little sense who will attempt to cheat me out of pay, argue with me about every little detail, and expect a thousand times the effort of what they'd be paying me.

What I will do is produce organic content that I think actual humans beings at least might want to read. And then if that content has a business link next to it for an associated product or service, well, so be it, that's how the web should work.

SEO is the belief that you can reverse-engineer and "hack" a search engine using only the text on your webpage, causing said engine to magically send all the visitors to you no matter what they type. It's a kind of irrecoverable brain damage. There's a whole cult of it out there. Everybody wants one thing: To be the first result on Google. Now, how many people want that? How many number-one spots on Google are there? What does common sense tell you will happen to the 999,000 people who didn't make page one?

Now, let's logically ask ourselves, "Why do people come back to a search engine?" Why, because it gives them RELEVANT, USEFUL CONTENT, does it not? So what if you "win" your SEO game and redirect Google traffic to your one-page sales-letter full of boilerplate marketing copy? Users will quit using Google and switch to a different search engine. After all, any search engine which was so easily gamed would be a poor quality search engine and users would abandon it. So, the objective, the true, root goal of all SEO is to put Google out of business. You, with your $3/month GoDaddy domain and pirated 1996 copy of FrontPage Express.

What could possibly go wrong with your simple business plan?

Let's take a famously iconic contested keyword: "mesothelioma". It's an incurable lung disease caused by inhaling hazardous substances on the job (I've worked construction jobs and at a power plant so I have a touch of it myself, cough cough cough), which leads to a lot of top-dollar workman's comp cases and legal settlements. Hence, it's a cash cow for ambulance chasers. SEO wonks have been trying to rank #1 for this word ever since 1997 when Google first launched.

So, after 15 years of "progress" in the SEO industry, where does the search result page for this coveted keyword stand right now?

The #1 spot is the Wikipedia entry.

The #2 spot is a domain with the same name, a commercial enterprise.

The #3 spot is the US government's own National Institute of Health site.

The #4 spot is the Mayo clinic.

None of these are the result of SEO tactics, but genuine content produced to inform first. Two of them are even non-profit public services. What does this tell you about the effectiveness of SEO vs. being an actual credible source on the subject? But go to any freelance job-posting site on the web and search for that keyword. Pages and pages of keyword-crankers, all offering the lordly sum of about $2 if only someone will help them get their spam site to come out on top of Wikipedia, the Mayo clinic, and the US government.

You'll find this over and over again. These idiots clog the web with their search-spam, never winning, and never learning. It's a brain disease. Just like with any superstition, you can't drive any common sense into their heads about how search engines actually work. They have charts! They have keyword density formulas! They have magic meta-tag spells! "If we jack these secondary-related search phrases into our keyword probability matrix times our nofollow-tag formula and our backlink farm sends stealth links from the dark web, we get a 2.3657680012% keyword density substrate for our article-spinner."

These cranks will never die. They will never learn. They're flakes. Not just some of them or the "black hat" ones, but all of them.

Anybody out there thinking of using a website as part of a business strategy? Stay away from SEO. Google hates it. Forbes hates it. Internet users, your presumed customers, hate it the most of all. SEO, like alchemy and Orgone and flying saucers, is every kind of wrong it can be. It's broken, it's stupid, and it doesn't work.

Come at me, bro!

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My Own Musings On Content Creation For The Web

Date/Time Permalink: 11/20/12 04:32:01 pm
Category: Geek Culture

...because that's just what the web needs is more navel-gazing!

I don't normally become such a squeeing fantard over another author's work, but The Oatmeal (hereby legitimized as True Art by my writing its name in 'em' tags) put up a strip called "Some thoughts and musings about making things for the web". And it spoke to me! It touched me! It touched me in places that I'll have to show my therapist on the dolly later! He read my soul!

Despite the fact that Matthew Inman can't draw for sour owl poop and normally doesn't rise above Dave-Barry-esque fart humor (*), he's produced what may some day arrive as a classic definitive description of what it's like being an online content producer.

(*) I kid, I kid!

I've just gotta give back! So I'll riff on the theme by adding my own corollary observations here:

#1. I never run out of ideas.

I have friggin' gigabytes of ideas scribbled into Emacs textfiles just waiting to be nurtured into brilliant content. I can't stop the ideas. If a squirrel farts next to me while I'm walking in the Wilderness of Inspiration (where I go to get away from the Internet and meditate like a Tolkien elf), it gives me an idea. The trouble is coming up with a good idea.

Corollary to the corollary: Ideas suck. It's the execution that makes all the difference. Take Stephen King (the horror author, you illiterate bagheads), he writes stories about werewolves and vampires and haunted hotels. That's it, that's his big ideas. In anybody else's hands, they'd be the most yawning, boring cliche stories ever written. But it's his writing style, his pacing, his inventive techniques, and his dedication to just writing the most entertaining yarns possible, that makes him a best-seller. Ideas suck. With an idea, all you have is a story about a lost little girl. It's the execution that makes a Wizard of Oz.

#2. The web is the rottenest possible audience.

There is a gap between good ideas, and ideas that the Internet likes. Seriously, you guys have shit tastes. Sure enough, if I croak out something so gawdawful that I'm trembling with self-loathing as I click the 'post' button, you guys eat it up like Christmas mornin'. If I concentrate on one idea for months and months and craft it with every fiber of resolve dwelling in my breast, revising and rewriting and laboring mightily with creative passion, slaying the dragon of indifference and mediocrity with my sparkling polished lance of inspiration, where the hell was I, I post my completed masterpiece and not a single one of you likes it, you don't even care enough to yawn at it. But those retarded ideas I twiddle out in ten minutes on the potty? Rave reviews, two thumbs way up, Reddit front-page, reposted and retweeted and retumblered and pinterested to the moon and back.

True story: Just to blow off dumb ideas, I made my "Penguin Pete's Daily Funny" Tumblr, which I actually call my "daily stupid". It's all image memes and lowbrow 4chan humor. To this day, it is still ahead of my webcomic (where I make Twue Art) in raw page views.

The most popular joke on the daily stupid so far is this one, lowbrow toilet humor. 1,767 likes and reblogs and the total can only go up now that I'm linking to it. But when I came up with this post, witty political humor framed in the device of Weird-Al'ing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", chock fulla currently relevant memes, and predicting the outcome to the election five days in advance, I might add, and its score is currently...

--> 2 <--

That's what I get for being psychic just for your entertainment.

#3. There's always good old pandering...

The one guaranteed road to Internet success is to pander to a niche. After all, this is Penguin Pete's, home to geek-in-blackface nerdy-minstrel STEMmer-feel-goodyness that started years before The Big Bang Theory ever wrote its pilot. Remember "How To Totally Fake Being A Geek" and "One for the ladies: How to date a geek guy?". Pander, pander, pander. Hugely popular, still StumbledUpon in the hundreds of hits per day, Digg front page - back when that meant anything, hyuk hyuk!

So if I post jokes about Minecraft on my daily stupid, they always get a tiny little bit of niche appreciation out of the Minecraft audience. Post an
Inkscape tutorial
, and that's guaranteed interest from somebody. I'll bet The Oatmeal fans are still reading this far. It's like those "aggressive yield" stock portfolios: The percentage is tiny, but it's a sure bet. I pander to the females on Pinterest, to the futurists and science geeks on Mind--Blown, and to the sysadmins and hackers and general geeks on Doomed to Obscurity.

So, yeah, pander = success on the webs.

#4. Pandering stunts your creativity.

Man alive, how is a body supposed to break new ground if they have to stay stuck in the same rut? I don't have to explain that to you, it's a very old story. TV Tropes has huge chunks devoted to cataloging the tropes of fanbase-conservatism, including "Why Fandom Can't Have Nice Things", "They Changed It, Now It Sucks", "Serious Business", "Ruined FOREVER", and "Fan Myopia".

Yeah, I could go on doing the Same Formula That We Know The Internet Likes. God knows, clients ask for that by the ton. It pays the bills. But on my own sites, I'm getting less and less interested in what pays the bills and more and more interested in shaking things up, trying new things, and exploring new horizons. You know, for the Internet, the greatest enabler of spontaneous creativity ever invented, its potential sure isn't explored very much. The same old crap gets reposted again and again and again.

The Internet is changing culture. I can turn off the Internet and turn on the TV, the radio, or a magazine (yes, I read magazines by turning them on, so there), and there's the Internet anyway. Twitter polls on TV, websites quoted in magazine articles, radio DJs cackling over something going around on Facebook. All media is all just one big Internet now.

The Internet is changing art. But it's changing it by putting it in Annie Wilkes' bedroom with a wheelchair and leg casts, making it rewrite the same book over and over and over...

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Twitter Lists I'm On

Date/Time Permalink: 11/10/12 01:32:54 pm
Category: LINKS and Lists

Remember Twitter lists? Everybody was excited about them back there once. Twitter still has this feature, and apparently people still use it.

Because if you read me, you should read these, too:

author - A list with no discernible theme that I can find, but just a bunch of random accounts. But "Goddamn Batman" is on it too, so I'm not arguing there.

Tech Stuff - Well, that's pretty self-explanatory, isn't it? Great complete list, by the way!

Skypost109-Bloggers - Described as "funny yet right down snarky at times." I shall always strive to answer the call of duty to live up to this high expectation.

Important OSS supporters - Oh, now how did I get so important without really doing much?

BoycottBoys - Described as "BoycottNovell shills and minions". Whee, I'm on a hit list! Which is funny, because BoycottNovell has standing insults to me they've never corrected or apologized for. This is what happens when you judge me by the standards of the troll cave at LXer.com.

Iowa Tweeps - Hello, Iowa! Are there any other Iowans here? Any of you Hawkeyes care to follow this list that has only five subscribers? I know there's more than five people in Iowa who know what Twitter is. I know at least eight or nine.

WebComics - I feel bad because this list is kept by a Spanish speaker and my webcomic is in English.

Sistemas - Also in Spanish, these are computer programmers and related stuff. I can suss out enough Spanish to tell this, thanks to my previous life out in the Southwest.

Famous - Somebody's got some really, really low standards for defining "famous". I've heard of just about everybody else on that list, and I'll bet none of them have heard of me.

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Inkscape Tutorial: Traced Path Pentagram

Date/Time Permalink: 10/09/12 02:50:23 pm
Category: Graphics Tutorials

Inkscape tutorial traced pentagram

It's a plain and fast tutorial, just for one trick of path manipulation, composed in Inkscape itself! I should do this more often.

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Script of the Day: Random Wallpaper Setter

Date/Time Permalink: 10/08/12 02:44:56 pm
Category: HOWTOs and Guides

Y'know, I get tired sometimes of dealing with all the different screens. Between several cell phones, a laptop, and several desktop PCs, I have about eight different devices that want their default screen space filled with something and eight different methods to use for filling them. Bah, I said, and also there's still no default mechanism in my favorite desktop, Fluxbox, for setting the wallpaper from the menu. Furthermore, for those times when an image doesn't scale easily onto screen dimensions, there's also no easy way to set the surrounding fill color.

This is BG.sh, Which I load into my menu system and launch with one click. It picks a random file out of my "graphics/Walls" directory, slaps it onto a full-screen background (automatically optimized for whatever screen it's running on) of a neutral color picked from the image itself (composing a new image in the process), and slaps it onto the screen. And then I get on with my life...

#!/bin/bash

# Step 1 - grab random file
FILE=$(ls ~/graphics/Walls/ | shuf -n1)
convert ~/graphics/Walls/$FILE ~/.temp.png

# Step 2 - Determine fill color
FILLCOLOR=$(convert ~/.temp.png -scale 1x1\! -format '%[pixel:u]' info:-)

# Step 3 - Determine the geometry of the root window
GEOM=$(xwininfo -root | grep -A 1 Width)
GEOMX=$(echo $GEOM | awk '{print $2}')
GEOMY=$(echo $GEOM | awk '{print $4}')
SIZE="$GEOMX""x""$GEOMY"

# Step 4 - Make a new background image with the fill color and root window dimensions
convert -size $SIZE xc:$FILLCOLOR ~/.current_wallpaper.png
convert ~/.temp.png -resize $SIZE\> ~/.temp.png

# Step 5 - Combine wallpaper and background and display
composite -gravity center ~/.temp.png ~/.current_wallpaper.png ~/.current_wallpaper.png
rm ~/.temp.png
display -window root ~/.current_wallpaper.png

exit 0

Ugly as grandma Moses, isn't it? I expect the usual commenters pointing out that I do everything the hard way.

What we're doing in step 2, is we're taking the wallpaper image and making a new temporary file where we scale that wallpaper down to a single pixel - this will produce the average color from the image. Then use Image Magick's 'info' feature to read the RGB of that one-pixel image, and that becomes the background color. The rest is just a few 'combine' statements and use of the little-seen GNU 'shuf' command, handy for whenever you want a random file from a directory.

As long as a system has X11, Image Magick, and GNU standard utilities, it should work. Feel free to snarf bits and bobs for your own uses.

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Book Review: Inkscape Beginner's Guide

Date/Time Permalink: 10/05/12 03:38:47 pm
Category: Reviews

Inkscape Beginner's Guide review

The folks over at Packt Publishing noticed that I sling some Inkscape tutorials around here, and contacted me asking if I'd be interested in reviewing an Inkscape book. They flipped me a free ebook copy for review purposes. Well, sure, I'm game!

Now, I'm a salty veteran at Inkscape. It's been one of the main tools in my graphics arsenal almost since the first release. Not only have I drawn hobby-level artwork in Inkscape, but I've also used it in professional-level graphic design in my freelance career whenever somebody needs an icon set or whatnot. So it's about time I read the full guide, isn't it?

Of course, one catch with reading about Inkscape is that I invariably open Inkscape while I'm reading about it, and then I check out features described in the guide to see how a new user would follow along, and then I end up playing with Inkscape, because its design is so good that you just can't resist idle doodling.

doodles in Inkscape

So this review got a bit delayed...

Now, the real test of a software guide is, did I learn anything from it? And I did pick up a couple of tricks I didn't know about before. Inkscape Beginner's Guide is very good at providing clear, step-by-step instructions and pacing everything so that even the rawest new user can follow along.

An example of pacing:

preview of Inkscape Beginner's Guide

By launching through a tutorial and then explaining afterwards what the point was, it helps the user to retain the information. This is an example of one of those cognitive theories you read about, though I'm not up to Wiki-fishing for it aat the moment.

The emphasis is on "beginner" here, so even some of the advanced tools aren't addressed in favor of being the gentlest possible introduction. The guide also keeps the technobabble to a minimum in a fresh, clear writing style that only explains what's absolutely necessary. It also provides a few nice examples for laying out a postcard, web page, brochure, and other practical applications for office-level work. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it for the new user.

For myself, I'd love to see an advanced guide. Perhaps someday, I will be the person to write it.

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8 Kinds of American Problem Voters

Date/Time Permalink: 09/24/12 12:05:24 pm
Category: Humor

Problem American Voters

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Followup: It's been a month - Still No Native Steam Client On Linux

Date/Time Permalink: 09/20/12 04:23:38 pm
Category: Prophecies

Isn't it funny how the whole tech blog universe must light up with this perpetual cycle of unmitigated hype, hostility to lash out at anybody like me who calls "B.S.", and then a month later: It never happened?

A month ago, I responded to the relentless spamming of the Linux community by asstroturfers working for Valve Software and phoronix.org. I pointed out that "Steam on Linux" has been a wolf-cry for nearly an entire generation of users now. I opined that it was nothing but viral marketing for page view ad revenue and P.R. for a game corporation. After getting a massive backlash which rated me somewhere between a Nazi and a pedophile for daring to suggest such a thing (gee, you're all such a nice, sweet audience! :)), I made the further move of dropping it into the prophecies category. Oh ho ho, how wrong I was, hooted the tech blog world.

The originator of all the hype, the Valve-run blog known as Steamed Penguins, still has exactly two posts, from July 16th and August 1st. No updates, no progress, no follow-up. The Steam stories have disappeared from the front page of Phoronix.

Most recent Phoronix story, August 29th, crowed about the old news of Left-4-Dead running on Linux, as if it hadn't already been running on Wine on Linux for two years. Entirely through the graces of the Wine team, not anything to do with Valve. As I've pointed out, you can run anything on Wine with enough determination - that's what it's for! Running on Wine is not native, and without a native Steam client for Linux, Valve has nothing more to talk about than Adobe does when somebody gets P**S* running on Wine.

Oh, what of the Open Steam Works progress? The database still barely records an attempt to show the portal client, no games on it, but lots of SQL query errors showing at the bottom - my, there's a crack team working in the background on this "active" project! What happens when you click the 'about' tab? You get one word, which kind of says it all right there.

Welllllllllll?

Fell for it all, didn't you? You naive, gullible, bought-off little sheep. The hype crusade ended, all is quiet from the Phony-nix site and the full-of-Hot-Steam bloggers, and nobody has anything to show for all the angst. Year after year after year, you all fall for it over and over again. Go look up what Albert Einstein said was the definition of insanity. The Internet audience appears to have a reality slice of about a week. Anything before that is lost in the fog of amnesia.

Well, I hope I've kept this story short enough that you can all fit it into your THC-fried short-term memories. I'll try to make regular updates to this non-story until next year, when the spam-paign rolls around again like clockwork, just as it has for the past ten years.

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