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Thanks for showing your concerns y’all. I still haven’t decided on the fate of ye olde blog, but I am doing another project that is taking up a lot of my webwriting energy. I’m writing reviews of local businesses and “anything with an address” for Yelp! I have to come up with over 30 short reviews a week, so I’m thinking of it as paid, review-blogging. It’s not as hard as it sounds, mostly because I have a lot of opinions. About everything and anything. Come, hear me spew, rave, slam, and praise at http://maikopunk.yelp.ca.

Feel free to also create your own profile and start reviewing and networking on the site too. Be my friend, and make me look popular. ‘Kay?

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: I really, really hate spam. It’s getting to the point where I feel personally invaded by this barrage on my e-mail inbox.

The funny thing is, the spam is all directed at my personal e-mail account; none of it seems to come to my professional address, which is the e-mail address I tend to advertise more. And for entering contests (I love to enter contests!) I use an arms-length hotmail account.

Luckily, my Internet provider tags the offending e-mails, thus allowing me to set up a delete filter and send it all straight to the trash folder. But still, for every piece of legit mail, there’s about five pieces of spammy, stupid crap. I hate the fake names and quasi legitimate subject lines: “You gotta look at this!” “Your account details need updating,” and the ever-popular “Do you want to enlarge your penis?” I hate that if I go on vacation, I’m either going to have to download 200 messages (mostly spam) or laboriously delete them if I check messages via the webmail thingy.

Yes, I could change my personal e-mail address. But the truth is, I’m rather attached to it, having used it so long. It reminds me of “Michael Bolton” from Office Space responding to the suggestion that he change his name: “Why should I change? He’s the one who sucks.” Exactly. Spammers, you’re the ones who suck.

In theory, if you ignore it long enough it will go away. But unfortunately, somebody out there is still falling for the promise of millions in Africa-stashed loot, Russian mail-order brides, and lots and lots of cheap, sex-enhancing drugs to make the most of it. So the rest of us suffer the consequences of having to deal with a daily tidal   wave of these stupid and potentially dangerous (as in virus-infected) messages. Oh, Internet.

My personal address is also tied to my Facebook account, but I’ve locked up my profile, and Facebook cleverly displays e-mail addresses as an image file rather than as a hyperlink. Still, could that affect the amount of spam I’m getting?

When I logged into WordPress this post caught my eye:

The Christine Donovan Effect

I thought it was about me. I thought it was all about me. But no, it seems that sports are very popular these days.

I’ve seen this ad for a writer’s assistant on Craigslist a couple of times now. Typically it offers no pay, but promises to provide “valuable experience” working with 2-3 professional writers. One line in particular puzzles me: “Although there is no direct remuneration for this particular role there will be opportunities to work on some projects that may offer payment.” What does this mean? Do you get tips for blowjobs? Can you keep the change from Starbucks runs? Will you dance the hokey-pokey while they throw quarters? Also notice the hedging – although there WILL be opportunities, there are only SOME that MAY be paid.

I have heard of this type of arrangement before, where an established writer takes on a new writer and helps them break into the business of selling novels or screenplays. But I think it’s more common in the US (read:***Hollywood***) and perhaps includes room and board in the bargain.

I’ll bet I get to provide my own rent with these people.

Have you ever worked in an office with a filthy kitchen and a fridge with all of last year’s lunches oozing out of it? Was there a sign above the sink reading “Your mother doesn’t work here” or “BYO Maid” and suchlike? Then check out the Passive-Aggressive Notes blog – especially if you hate people who resort to passive-aggressive behaviours instead of saving everyone time and aggravation by coming out and saying what they want. I love all the notes – and responses – from people for whom directness is NOT a way of life.

If punctuation abuse is more what gets your blood boiling – i.e. you nodded in sympathy on every page of Eats, Shoots & Leaves – there are two blogs that feel your pain (both found via the aforementioned P-A blog):

I especially liked the post on picking apart the unnecessary use of quotation marks by Truamn Capote (!) in In Cold Blood. I myself am a recovering quotation mark and unnecessary brackets abuser.

As an afterthought, I wonder if I am being passive-aggressive about my issues with passive-aggressiveness by writing this post to encourage others to recognize it and stop doing it. Man, do I ever hate indirectness and veiled commands. So just don’t do that, please.

Colour me stumped – so I do the nerdiest thing possible: go online and shop for dictionaries. And style guides. Oh my!

In the course of that shopping, I came across this review for the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

This book has got me stumped. Being a huge Webster fan I couldn’t be more disappointed. Not a single picture of my little man. The book doesn’t even talk about him. No pictures – nothing. Not even a mention Alex Karras (George). “Merriam Webster”?? What’s that? Is it like some caveman speak for “Webster’s happy”? And what does he have to be happy about? – he’s surely gets minimal exposure from this publication.

Apart from my initial disappointment this book doesn’t even make sense. I couldn’t follow the plot and trying to read all the many sub-chapters aloud is a futile exercise in alliteration.

Sold. It’s the dictionary review Ed might have written.

Mainly to keep up with my friends from Print Futures, I signed up for a Facebook account. It’s fast become something I keep open almost all the time, sitting there as a little tab on my browser, and check obsessively to see what’s going on with my friends.

I’ve also looked for old friends on Facebook, and it amazes me how much information people put up there for anyone to see. It got me thinking about identity theft and how Facebook is a goldmine of information for people with not-so-friendly intentions.

I googled “Facebook” and “identity theft” and learned that high schoolers and college kids are the fastest growing group of targets for identity theft, partly because of their use of social networking sites and casualness towards putting personal information online. In addition, they are less likely to check their credit report and discover scams going on in their name.

But the creakier, over-30s are vulnerable too. I notice that some of my friends are putting phone numbers, full birthdates, and their work history in their profile – all of which is information that could help someone impersonate you. However, if you’re a paranoid person like I am, Facebook does offer a schwack of privacy options that allows you to limit who sees your profile and what information someone who searches for you might find. You can click on the privacy button on top of the screen to customize who gets to see what information. Still, you want to strike a balance between totally hiding everything and letting people know who you are.

If worrying about identity thieves harvesting info from your profile isn’t enough, there’s also the threat of phishing to guard against. Facebook sends an e-mail to me when someone writes on my wall, sends me a message, or adds me as friend. Some scammers have taken advatage of this and create similar looking e-mails with links to click. The links lead to a fake site designed to get you to give up your password. Again, I’m a paranoid person – so if I get such an e-mail, I let my mouse hover over the link, and if the http:// that comes up doesn’t match, fuggedaboutit. Delete.

Other than that, if I get friend request from people whose names I don’t know and whose information doesn’t look familar, I won’t add them. I got a friend request from someone who I thought might have been someone I know, but because I wasn’t sure if they were using a fake name or if they were a weirdo who was collecting random Facebook friends, I rejected them. Like I said, paranoid.

Just came back from Northern Voice 2007 at UBC. People with laptops and crazy little tech devices were everywhere, taking notes on the sessions as well as checking email, uploading pictures to Flickr, reading Gmail, and blogging, blogging, blogging, even as I write this back home in New Westminster. (Let’s not forget IM’ing.)

You can check out images and feeds from Northern Voice 2007 on these sites:


Anywhere else I would have considered it rude and antisocial to gaze into the glow of one’s computer screen while speakers are speaking, but this was a blogging conference. And it was so much about the social possibilities of technology that it became completely natural that attendees should do socially what they would normally do in isolation, or at least alone.

I collected a lot of new technical information on blogging and technologies (writing down copious notes in my totally analog notebook) but the emphasis was squarely on the human and social aspects of blogging. I met some nice new people and connected with a few people that I hadn’t seen in a while. And a lot of attendees just looked familiar, despite the fact that I haven’t been to a blogger meetup in oh, 3 years.

There were advice and insights aplenty throughout the day, from keynote speaker Anil Dash‘s declaration that “CC’s in email are an act of aggression” to Alex Waterhouse-Hayward‘s advice to write every day and try to include a picture that “doesn’t look like it came from Flickr.” My favourite piece of blogging advice came in the session on Legal Rights and Liabilities for Bloggers, which dealt with avoiding getting sued for defamation, harassment, copyright infringement, etc.: “Don’t post while angry or drunk. The Draft button is there for a reason.”

One last thing: it’s funny that in the same week that this incredible event is going on, the Straight should publish a piece of anti-technology screed by Evelyn Lau. Lau proclaims loudly her disdain for all things connected, declaring proudly not to even use e-mail. Granted, everybody needs to disconnect sometimes to get some real work done, connect to those around us in the moment, smell the flowers, etc. But many of us don’t have a choice about getting e-mail and letting others in the techno doors. Without any best-selling books to my credit, no editors are likely to make an allowance for my not being able to communicate online, send files, etc. Why do I feel so offended by Lau’s poo-pooing of the technology that we writers, workers, editors use to get the job done? Am I jealous that she has the luxury (award-winning writer blah blah) to just say no?

For those who shake their heads at the hype over World of Warcraft, the Sims, and especially Second Life, and those who can laugh at themselves for being so addicted, Vancouver blogger Darren Barefoot has put up this fantasmic site: GetaFirstLife. The best feature of GAFL? “Fornicate using your actual genitals.”

The really nice part of the story is that Darren got a “proceed and permitted” letter from the SL folks that contained the shocking sentence “We know parody when we see it.”

(Note: This post is for my webwriting class so it’s a little different from my normal topics.)

Web design is a hairy thing. It’s not merely a matter of taste or what you like when you go to websites, but the conventions that users adopt in order to use the web. In a lot of ways, I think those conventions have to do with giving people what they want they way they want it because people are lazy, lazy creatures. And the web just makes us spoiled. Most people who go to a website are not willing to spend any time to figure out how it works; they just want to find what they’re after and get out.

I suppose I could get all idiosyncratic and defiant (my usual mode) in response to the advice of guys like Jakob Nielsen on how not to piss off your visitors with bad web design. A lot of what he says does make sense: make search relevant, minimize intrusive adverts, write short and sweet. Other things he says I’m not so sure about, such as “Users hate coming across a PDF file while browsing, because it breaks their flow. Even simple things like printing or saving documents are difficult because standard browser commands don’t work.” This is one of those areas where he’s against something because it makes the user do a little work. I partially agree, however, that users ought to be warned if a PDF is a-comin’ as a result of clicking on the link. (I hate being surprised by a download.) I also like when websites offer either a PDF or HTML version of a longer document – the otherwise usability-challenged government of Canada website is a good example.

A while back, I read Nielsen’s point about not programming links to open new windows because it is a “user-hostile message implied in taking over the user’s machine.” Up to that point, I had been programming all my links to open new windows, both to keep y’all here and to not send you off into the unknown. Who knows what’s on the other end of that link? But after reading Nielsen’s mistake #9, I decided to compromise thusly: the links in the blogroll open new windows, but the links in the text do not. Uncharacteristically helpful hint: Firefox can be configured to open links that open in new windows in easy-to-manage tabs instead. (Just go to Tools, then Options, select the Tab button, and choose whether you want to open links in new windows or new tabs.)

Now I don’t know if the guy was running out of web design quibbles to include on his Top Ten, but I feel the uncontrollable urge to point out that #6 Page Titles With Low Search Engine Visibility and #10 Not Answering Users’ Questions are issues of content, not design. That’s my editor. I feel better now.

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Kettle River Wildlife Club

Kettle River Wildlife Club

Kettle River Wildlife Club

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