1500 Posts? Is It Time For A Vacation Yet?

Yep, you read right.   This is my 1500th post.

Good grief.

This blog started July 30, 2009.  I don’t know what I had in mind then, but basically that one post just said hello and promised more.

Whether anyone wanted more or not didn’t matter, here it is.

I took a bit of a rest, cleared my head and then came back to it about a month later.  First a random post here, another there, then three times a week.

The blog has been at least one article, or joke, every day since September 11, 2009. 

All 1500 of them.

It seems traditional to give a review of the most popular articles each time you do one of these things.  I’ve had a few bizarrely popular articles.  It seems to show what this blog is about. 

Recipes, Reviews, and Pictures.  

The number one post was my recipe for Biscuits.   It is lifted right from the back of the Gold Medal Self Rising Biscuit bag, and it gets hit almost every day by some cook somewhere.  Let me tell you, they’re mind-bendingly good, but you really do need to go and find the post on how to make butter in the food processor.   Add them together and it’s something that is an experience.

The second most read post is a picture of an Impatiens flower.   We had them in a pot in front of the door that now has some succulents that were given to us a while back.  The thing is that the irrigation flooded the pot every morning and one of the seeds ended up in the little “ditch” in front of the front garden.   That flower’s gone but not forgotten.   Maybe we should try them again – only if we can keep the snails out!

Number three?  It’s a recipe.  More accurately a review of my own ineptness.   I tried making Pineapple Jelly out of some leftover cans from Hurricane Season.  I got a slurry that was tasty but way too loose.   I re-cooked that jelly and it thickened nicely.   After discussing it with a friend in Atlanta, Craig just told me to send it to him.  He said he enjoyed the slurry on ice-cream like a topping.   Waste not, Want not!

To round out the top five, I have two tech articles.   One told you how to stop hotmail from doing annoying things, another reviewed a website called SimplyHired.com .   Hotmail is “dead”, having been co-opted into the supremely annoying Outlook.com.  SimplyHired is a job search website that I really don’t care for.  Yet another “aggregator” of jobs that I look at to see if I missed anything.

These tech articles tend to have “staying power”.  In fact all of the top five posts were not very popular when I wrote them but they get hit frequently.  People seek out help all the time online and anything like that will get read over and over by people who stumble over the same problems you have.  Someone out there has found the problem, may have figured out the solution, and will follow up by writing a page or three.

Avoiding Astroturfing

We’ve all looked at reviews online.   I actually find them entertaining.   Some sites really do have some over the top reviews where an inconsequential widget like a can opener is shown to be the end all of all creation.

Those are usually very easy to spot.   You will hear about an item on an auction site that has taken a life of its own and frustrated comic writers try to sharpen their wit and see if they get any attention for it.

That is rather harmless, kind of a prank.  A recent one was the three wolf moon T Shirt review on Amazon where putting on the T Shirt has been said to cause the wearer to get the powers of levitation and control over a pack of wolves, specifically in a Wal Mart.  This one has been going on for a couple years now as an established Meme.

But that isn’t astroturfing.   Astroturfing is the practice of posting fake reviews by someone connected with the company or product in order to drive sales or traffic to the site.   They’re usually pretty easy to spot, and pretty easy to avoid.   When you hit a review site like Yelp, simply skip all the Five Star Reviews.  They’re usually written by some second cousin of the owner of the shop anyway.

I’ve spotted them in company reviews posted on Glassdoor. Glassdoor is a site that exists to allow people to research a company they are interested in working for.  Hopefully they will give a glimpse inside the Glass Door to allow them to decide whether the company is worth applying to.   I have seen some reviews on Glassdoor that were clearly written by the owner, and they’re always “called out”.  What generally happens is that someone who was working there will post an anonymous review stating just how awful the company is and how it is mean to puppies and kittens and …   well you get the picture.

But Astroturfing also has a darker side, and luckily we have New York to thank for spotting it.  There’s a practice called “Search Engine Optimization” where a website is written in such a way to raise its ranking on a search engine.  The current wry definition of frustration is the act of proceeding to the second page of a web search in order to find something about something you need.   So webmasters, myself included, will try to add helpful links and comments in the page in order to make it more important and more pertinent to the web search engine.   The problem is that the rules are never told to the webmasters and they change all the time.

Search Engine Optimization is usually a guess.   A “Scientific wild-assed guess” or a SWAG, but a guess.

So what happened in the case of New York is that the State created some yogurt shops and looked for help in getting their pages optimized.   The shops never existed.   Some companies were valid and helped the shop “owners” work their webpages over with some commonly accepted techniques.   Others were more devious and resorted to Astroturfing.  These companies offered to have fake reviews posted in Yelp and others to drive traffic to the site.   That isn’t exactly legal as it deceives the potential client by having people in places like the Philippines and others posting these glowing reviews of a shop that they never visited and doesn’t even exist.

It’s also apparently illegal in New York, and should be illegal everywhere else.

Luckily these reviews are usually easy to spot, and normally easy to avoid.  Just avoid your Three Wolf Moon T Shirt.   It’s out of fashion now and worn “ironically” just like the reviews.

What To Do When The Website Is Down

I guess you could always fire off Solitaire, make Coffee, or talk nice to those around you, but this is a very different story.

Over the weekend I had a quest.  It started on Friday when I had gotten the call that I was wanted to come in for an interview.  The company is one that I have been targeting for a while, would be a great opportunity, and I’m looking forward to getting to see the place. 

There’s only one problem.  Directions. 

I was given the company website for their maps, thanked the person who I was speaking with, and went on my merry way.

Typing in the website, I waited… nothing happened.

Realizing it could be my own laptop, or some of the security software I run here, I twiddled around with settings, used a different browser, then tried it on another computer since all were available at the touch of a mouse click.  After all, I had been to that very same website just earlier that day for a different reason and it was happily up and running.
Still nothing.

Oh great, another “challenge”.

One thing I remembered is that there were websites that you could check to see if someone else’s website was running.  So I keyed in the URL into the link on the website box for www.downforeveryoneorjustme.com and it said helpfully that “It’s Not Just You” and it looked down to them.   Helpful site for this sort of thing.

It remained down all weekend.  Someone needed to “Feed the Squirrels” as we would say, and get that server back up again.

Ok, so now what?

We all have our favorite web search sites, some like www.google.com  others like www.bing.com or www.yahoo.com.  Lately I’ve been going to www.startpage.com since it uses Google for its searches, but doesn’t have the IP Reporting thing since I don’t really like being watched.

Clicking on the helpful “Images” link up top, I was able to find my map in two clicks.   I was also able to find an Org chart for the department and some other background information.  Very helpful.

Success!  The map is printed out, my directions are printed out, and I have my resume on some very nice “palm fiber” paper.   I always did like high quality paper, it’s something that nobody else may notice but it makes me feel better and isn’t that what it’s all about when you’re going to that important interview?

I’ll let them know their map site is or was down when I get there.

Why Cricket in Florida?

Moving from one area to another and settling in can give you time to consider your surroundings and be confused. 

I woke today, early, and realized that I had not written a posting for today so I went to Google Insight.  It’s the theory that if other people are interested in something, I may be too.  You know, the Herd Mentality.  The Justin Bieber phenomenon.

It tells you what was searched in a given area for a given period of time.  It gives me the top ten, although I seem to remember that I could go back and search for more than just that.  I can look at the major metro areas in many countries, and see what they were thinking.  Great for solving writers’ block but I’m still a bit confused about any other practical use.

So here I sit, at dawn, windows open listening to some Goa-Psy Trance and wonder…

Why Cricket?

I have read the Wikipedia page on the rules to the game and for all I can see its a bunch of grown men running back and forth between two sets of pegs in the ground after hitting a ball with a frat paddle.

Every time I start to read that article, my eyes glaze over and think… I’ve got to ask a Brit Ex-Pat next time I speak to one.  It’s a game that is played in “Commonwealth Nations” and is apparently the “National Sport of Great Britain”.

It still looks like a bunch of guys running around between sets of pegs to me but what ever floats your boat…

But why in Florida?

We had a Cricket club in Philadelphia near the house.  It just looked like a big open field to me when I’d walk the dog by.  Nobody ever used it at that particular time of day and I just scratched my head and thought that it’s better than plopping houses down on the grounds.  It had been there for longer than I was, and it was still there.   I had this feeling that it was the descendant of a club that was four or five times removed from pre-revolutionary times.  It was Philadelphia after all.

But here in South Florida, you would be hard pressed to find anything that predates 1900 let alone 1776.  Almost everything here is “new” in comparison.  Homes and businesses are typically low slung to avoid the high winds out of the occasional tropical storm and there is a “look” to everything.  Strip Malls and Fake Spanish Architecture with some Old Florida Concrete Block Homes with some vulgar gated communities full of Mc Mansions.  Add in a lot of Royal Palms and Ficus Hedges.  Want a better view? I suggest street view in Google Maps…

People flooded in after the invention of air conditioning made it possible to live in comparative comfort and luxury.  Like any inflow of people, it would reflect those who live nearest.  The Cubans flooded in to Miami in the 60s due to the overthrow of Battista’s regime and there were waves of people from places like Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Barbados as well.  Adds an Island Flavour to the area.

They did bring their own traditions with them, and I can get a wonderful Cuban meal just by walking a mile up the road.  Yes, I walk,  I’m from Philadelphia and we *do* that.

We are close enough to those places that when I get in the car and am listening to AM radio, I will stop for a while on “Zed N S” or ZNS Bahamas Radio Northern Service on 810 and see what the neighbors are doing.  Often during the news I’ll hear about a little old lady in Eleuthera who had an accident with a palm tree or their sport scores.

That would explain it, the Bahamians as well as the rest of those Caribbean Nationals who settled here brought their fondness for that intractable game, Cricket. 

I still don’t get the game, but it does explain why there were searches at all.

Then again, The Superbowl is just an excuse for me to overeat, Baseball is deadly dull, and don’t even get me started on Soccer!

Google Trends Review

There are tools that you can play with when you build a blog.  All this is designed to drive people to the page and hopefully see something that will bring them back and maybe even click on an ad.   You know, Beer Money…

One of them is Google Trends.  It looks a lot like Google but what it does is tell you how popular that search is by other people.   Basically what the neighbors are thinking.  Ever look at your dog and say “I wonder what she’s thinking”?  At least now you know how popular something is or what is going on in the world because you’re presented with the top ten search terms for the last hour or so.   For today 9/25/2009, when I clicked on this, the number 8 search was “Randy Quaid Arrest“.   I didn’t know he was arrested because that kind of news usually doesn’t get me to look at it.   I remember Randy Quaid from various movies and the first thought was Texas… they’ll shoot him.  But I was wrong and the Presidio County Sherriff’s Officers must have known him too.   Apparently, he was more calm than his wife was threatening and screaming like she was less than happy about it all.   Didn’t listen to the officers did you, Evi?   Tsk Tsk.   If it were you or I or any other “regular guy” I suspect you’d be going for a ride in the back of a Crown Victoria Police Interceptor after accidentally banging your head on the B Pillar… or worse.

At any rate, its amusing in a dry sort of way to look at the top 100 and find some quirk in our society that you hadn’t thought about.   Ok, I need to get out more…. but if you want to see the current top 100, click here.