Aug 29

Golden 5th anniversary

Our first post here was on 26 August 2008, so we’ve made it to 5 years with 275 posts now in the archive here. I’d like to thank all my regular readers and subscribers for their support over the years. As I’ve said before, I run this blog in my spare time so page views, subscriber numbers and reader comments mean a lot. If you’re new here, have a look through the archives and categories in the side bar or search for a topic that interests you. Please subscribe if you can.

What sort of things are covered here? Well, I’m currently looking at moving to Linux from Windows 7. I’ve written three posts in that series and there are more to come. I have a Google Nexus 10 tablet and will probably soon change my HTC Legend smartphone for a Google Nexus 4 given the price drop announced yesterday so I’ll be blogging about that and useful Android apps for both. I chose the domain name Tech and Life so it allows me scope to cover stuff outside tech so you’ll occasionally get some posts about my philosophies on life.

Finally, just to leave you with something useful, what else was happening 5 years ago? I came across a post on Reddit recently about catching up on news if you’ve been away for a while. Just search your chosen month and year in Wikipedia. You can use this to check out what was happening for example 5 years ago as this blog was starting up. The Summer Olympics were on in Beijing, and Illinois Senator Barack Obama accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party, becoming the first African American to be nominated by a major party for election as President of the United States.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Nov 14

I really appreciate comments on my posts, both positive and negative. I read them all and try to learn from them. But over the last 2 or 3 months, I’ve been getting more comments which are getting through my Akismet spam filter and which at first sight seem to be genuine but are probably spam. Akismet generally does an excellent job so I don’t really need another antispam plugin. In addition I don’t like Captchas –  I’ve spent enough time refreshing these till I found one I could read before commenting so I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Anyway, there’s just a few comments coming through that on the face of it may be genuine, or may not. So how do we filter the spam from the genuine?

How to spot the spammy blog comment

1. The comment really doesn’t add any value to that particular post, it’s often just a general comment praising some aspect of the blog as a whole.

2. Try Googling the whole comment, or even part of it and see if it’s been used on other blogs. Here’s a typical one from my blog.

Wow, awesome weblog layout! How long have you been blogging for?
you made running a blog look easy. The whole glance of your website is wonderful,
as smartly as the content material!

Yes, the grammar isn’t perfect but that doesn’t necessarily make it spam. Google the complete comment (within quotes) and you get nothing. But Google just the first two sentences, again within quotes, and you get over 5 million hits! Here’s some of the first page:

Wordpress spam

 

The first three sentences are in fact the same but small variations start appearing in the fourth sentence. But the real giveaway that variations of this comment are in widespread use is the incorrect and consistent lower case ‘you’ after the question mark at the end of the second sentence. So although it got through Akismet, I deleted it.

Here’s another seemingly genuine comment:

My partner and I stumbled over here by a different website and thought I should check things out. I like what I see so i am just following you. Look forward to exploring your web page for a second time.

I found that even if I googled this type of comment without quotes, Google picked up the matches in bold. Here’s the first page of search results for this comment when I didn’t use quotes:

Wordpress spam2

So you can see that much of the comment is repeated on different blogs and just changing a few words here and there.

3. I use the CommentLuv plugin, but find that most commenters don’t really seem to use it… at least, until recently. The recent spate of spam commenters often (but not always) seem to use CommentLuv on my blog to link to some spammy site. If I’m not sure about the link, I check it out carefully on my Ubuntu netbook, just in case. Often the articles are very poorly written and are just a vehicle for spammy keywords. Again, if these comments slip through Akismet, they just get deleted.

4. In fact the pattern of the CommentLuv link and the general nature of the comment together with the fact that they’ve all started in the last 2 or 3 months suggest that all these are just spam comments and will be deleted.

5. Just as I was finalizing this piece, Harsh Agrawal of the blog ShoutMeLoud today posted a huge list of spam comments which look genuine. These may help you decide if you are unsure about a comment. Just copy the suspect comment (or part of it)  and head over to that post. Then search the list for your text by simply keying Ctrl-F and pasting your suspect comment into the Find box.

So that’s how I try and weed out the occasional spammy comments that get through my spam filter and I hope that’s been some help in checking out comments which just don’t seem right to you. How do you deal with these? Drop a (genuine!) comment below.


Sep 26

Birthday Cake - Candles

Well, after starting this blog in August 2008, 4 years later, I’ve made it to my 250th post! If you do the math, that’s just over five posts a month. Not a great output I know, but I blog in my spare time and I find each post takes some time to construct and get just right.

I’d like to thank everyone who’s subscribed to or kept in touch with the blog so far, especially those who’ve taken the time to comment. Blog comments and subscriber numbers are the two things that encourage bloggers to keep going. If you’re a long time reader, thanks for sticking around. If you’re new here, I’d love you to sign up to our RSS feed or have posts delivered to your email inbox. You’ll find the subscription buttons at the top right of the page.

I hope you will take a look around – with 250 posts now, there’s probably something here for everyone.  I don’t reblog tech news. You’ll mainly find tech and productivity tips here – things I’ve worked out and learned in the day to day working with my PC, apps and online sites. I spend a lot of time in RSS feeds looking for great apps, sites and services. When I find them, I try them out and if they improve my current setup and productivity, I’ll blog about them. I enjoy passing on what I discover. I also blog about problems I’ve solved, hardware I use, learning and working with WordPress, continuing my journey with Linux, online privacy and so on. And you’ll also get the occasional post on my take on life in general. I’ve also just picked up my first smartphone, an HTC Legend, so I’ll be mentioning great Android apps in the future.

The appearance of the blog hasn’t changed over the 4 years. I’ve recently improved the blog header as mentioned in my last post. I’ve rewritten the About page and added the nrelate Related Content plugin as you can see at the bottom of this post. I would like to change the theme before our 5th anniversary and I’m looking at responsive themes so hopefully the site will then look even better on your smartphone.

Any thoughts or suggestions about the appearance or content? What would you change? Drop a comment below.

And here’s to the next 250 posts!

Image Credit: jessica diamond


Mar 6

Back in December, I blogged about how a website was copying and publishing all my posts without my consent. I concluded then that I had four options to deal with it. One option was that the bad publicity from that post might provoke a reaction and the webmaster would take down all the illegally copied posts, not just mine. Well that didn’t happen. In fact, incredibly, they actually copied and published that post as well! So I ended up with a post naming and shaming a plagiariser, being copied and published by that same plagiariser. Clearly, they weren’t even reading the posts before they published them! I’m guessing they had an automated system which was scraping posts from Feedburner.

Anyway, another option I had then was just to sit and wait. The domain would expire in January this year, so let’s see if they renew then I’ll take action, and that’s what I did. In fact, they didn’t renew and the domain expired and has now been suspended.

Plagiarism3

So in the end, I didn’t have to file a DMCA notice with the host to have that stolen content removed. In a way I’m happy – I didn’t have to spend time going through that process which would also have meant revealing my real identity in that legal action. This blog and the techandlife persona has partly been an exercise in seeing if it’s possible to operate under a pseudonym and withholding my real identity. Apart from telling a few friends and family (and, of course Google knows), it seems to have worked but that’s another blog post.

But in a way I’m annoyed that I chose the easy route. I should really have filed a DMCA notice. Plagiarisers should be stopped. This guy has doubtless moved on to a new domain and is probably back stealing someone else’s content. And there’s plenty of help out there in filing a DMCA. Jonathan Bailey, an expert in this field and who has taken the time to answer some of my questions on blog plagiarism in the past, outlines 4 simple online tools to help send DMCA notices. So perhaps next time I’ll make the effort. Watch out for Part 3 in this series!


Dec 14

Despite having a copyright notice at the bottom of every page, my blog posts have been stolen for several months now by a content scraping site. I was alerted to this as I use a free service called FairShare to monitor the web for content copied illegally from my blog. The scraping site is MakeMyComputerFaster and they’ve been copying not just part of my posts but the whole deal. Here’s an example. Strange thing is most of my posts aren’t giving tips on how to make your computer run faster so I don’t really see what’s the point. They’ve even copied the warning at the end of my post that it’s been copied without permission. Actually, I wonder if this post will appear there after I publish it? What I want to do here is go through the steps I’m taking to try and stop this and the difficulties I’m having.

Contact the owner of the site copying my posts

If you read any post on blog plagiarism, this is always the first recommendation. It’s worth a try but my first point is that any site serious about content scraping just isn’t going to make their contact details freely available. And so it is with my problem site. There you’ll find no contact form, no contact email, no contact details, and you can’t comment on any post. The owner calls himself James Brooks but I wouldn’t think that’s his/her real name. So what next?

Run an eWhoIs search

Plagiarism1

As you can see the eWhoIs search brings up the information that the site has been registered through WhoIsGuard to protect the owner’s real identity. No surprise there. The only other info of note is at the bottom of the page:

Plagiarism2

So the site is hosted by pipeDNS servers.

I’ve also read that it’s possible to track anonymous bloggers by using their Google Analytics code. Unfortunately, this content scraper didn’t use Google Analytics as it didn’t show up in the eWhoIs report so a Reverse Google Analytics ID Lookup wasn’t possible. But it’s worth bearing in mind for the future.

Contact the host of the site copying my posts

So I’ve emailed the agent for pipeDNS who deal with claims of copyright infringement (justHOST.com) pointing out the position and giving examples of my plagiarized posts and asking if they can contact the site owner to see if the illegally copied posts can be removed. So far my email to pipeDNS and 2 emails to justHOST haven’t got a response and the illegal content is still online.

What next?

Well, looks like I have four options:

1. Just ignore it. The site has PageRank 0 so there’s little likelihood that the copied posts are going to outrank mine in a Google search.

2. Submit a DMCA takedown notice to the host pipeDNS asking for the illegal content to be removed. Looks like that’s the only way they will take any action unfortunately which is a pity. It would have been nice if they had made some effort to police the content scrapers they host without having to resort to a DMCA notice.

3. The domain expires on 27th January 2012 as seen in the graphic above. Wait and see if the owner renews the domain or just lets it lapse.

4. Hope that the bad publicity of this post gets a response and he/she takes all the illegally copied posts down.

What do you think I should do here? Drop a comment below. I’ll write a Part 2 to this post when there’s more to report.


Nov 3

Route 66

Well, after starting blogging here in August 2008, 3 years and 3 months later I’ve made it to my 200th post! If you do the math, that’s just over five posts a month – not a great amount so I’m never going to overload your RSS reader or email, and that’s probably a good thing.

I’d like to thank everyone whose subscribed to or kept in touch with the blog so far, especially those who’ve taken the time to comment. Blog comments and subscriber numbers are the two things that encourage bloggers to keep going. If you’re a long time reader, thanks for sticking around. If you’re new here, I’d love you to sign up to the RSS feed for the blog or to have posts delivered to your email inbox. You’ll find the subscription buttons at the top right of the page. Hopefully the fact that I’ve put out 200 posts over three and a bit years will convince you I enjoy blogging in my spare time and intend to continue at it.

I hope you will take a look around – with 200 posts now, there’s lots to look at. I don’t reblog tech news as there’s plenty out there doing that. You’ll mainly find tech tips here – things I’ve worked out and learned in the day to day working with my PC, software and online sites. I like to pass on what I discover. Problems I’ve solved, apps and free software I find useful, hardware I use, learning and working with WordPress, continuing my journey with Linux, discovering and using great online services, online privacy and so on. And you’ll also get the occasional post on my take on life in general.

Here’s a selection from the 200 posts which you might like to look at:

A short Twitter list to follow for great tech links

Dell Inspiron 1545 laptop screen replacement: not as hard as you think!

Points to consider when choosing screen capture software

Eliminate PC overheating and shutdown by trying a simple procedure

Improve search in Word by closing the search pane

The new search feature (Ctrl-F) in Word 2010

A generation of change in PCs

Remove FeedBurner tracking queries when clicking website links in Google Reader

Quick tip: Remove Windows.old folder after installing Windows 7

Send free SMS reminders to your mobile phone

Some Ubuntu resources for beginners

Useful links: Free wi-fi hot spots

Useful links: A to Z of search

How long should a good blog post be?

Give us this day our daily fruit and veg

Receiving low balance account alerts by SMS from your bank

Hopefully there’s something for everyone there. Well, here’s to the next 200 posts and more. Thanks for reading!

Image credit: gamillos


Sep 12

Iomega external hard drive

Just a cautionary tale today. Until recently I was only partially backing up this WordPress blog. I didn’t realise this and thankfully I never had to restore the blog from backups otherwise I would have learned my mistake too late – and it’s just not enough to rely on your blog host to come up with the backups when there’s a problem. Some are better than others but they can’t be relied upon.

So where was I going wrong? Well to put it simply, there are two important things you should be considering in a WordPress backup – your blog database AND your files. I had read enough posts about WordPress backup plugins and I installed one (WP-DB-Backup) very early in my blogging history to backup the database of posts. But that’s actually not enough. If you’re not backing up your files then really important stuff like all the image uploads for each post, your plugins, and your themes (including css and php files) aren’t being backed up and you’ll need these to completely restore your blog quickly in the event of a disaster or your blog being hacked.

Backing up your WordPress blog database

There are different ways to do this but I’ve always used WP-DB-Backup and use the option to download the backup to my hard drive although you can also have it emailed to you. On my PC, I’ve created a new folder called My Sites for my blogs as I already have My Documents, My Pictures, etc and this continues a consistent folder naming policy. I then created the folders Techandlife/Database Backups in this folder. I also backup this database backup regularly to an external backup hard drive so I have a second copy.

Backing up your WordPress blog files

Again there are different ways to do this but I use an FTP client to download the WordPress files to my hard drive and again also backing this up to an external hard drive. The important files on your WordPress blog are all in the directory public_html/wp-content. Again this goes into my My Sites/Techandlife folder. I must admit I don’t back up regularly enough but I try and do it once a month, so at worst I’ve lost just the last month of posts. The FTP client I use, Ipswitch WS FTP LE is a classic freeware product and still works fine under Windows 7. You could also use FileZilla for your file backups.

Another way to backup your files is with the WordPress Backup plugin.

Backup everything at once

I haven’t tried this but understand that EZPZ One Click Backup will backup (and restore) both the database and files but I note on the download page that quite a few people have problems getting it to work. Everything mentioned so far are free solutions but there are also paid solutions like WP Dolly Pro and monthly subscription services like blogVault.

Backup Windows Live Writer

If you compose your posts in Windows Live Writer, you can back up your settings, recent posts, drafts and plugins with Windows Live Writer Backup.

I’ve never had to restore my blog from backup yet so I’d love to hear your experiences with backing up and particularly restoring your WordPress blog. Did it work for you? What did you learn? Which backup plugins do you use if any? We all want to be fully prepared for this disaster waiting to happen and know that we’re in good shape to get going again as quickly as possible. Drop a comment below with your experiences, good and bad.


Jul 27

I love getting comments on blog posts and I’ve already blogged my arguments for keeping posts open for comments. Thankfully, most posts I make receive mostly positive comments and I haven’t had to deal with too much negative stuff. Obviously I listen to the negatives and try and improve if I’m at fault. But I think we can all learn something from negative comments on tech advice blogs – and that includes the commenter, the audience and myself. Here’s two general examples based on comments I received recently.

Your tech tip didn’t work for me

This particular post had about 10-15 positive comments. People really liked the tech tip I gave and it worked for them all. Then one person left a comment just saying that it didn’t work for them. Fair enough. But it would have been nice if the commenter had given a bit more info on what he had tried before leaving the negative comment. If the tip worked for me and the first 10 commenters then perhaps the problem may not be the tech tip but a conflict in that person’s system causing it to fail to work. If they had access to another computer, they could try running it on that for example. The main thing is just try your best to figure out why it doesn’t work for you and eliminate your set-up before leaving a negative comment then we can all learn if there are particular set-ups where the tip won’t work.

Criticise, but at least offer an alternative

In another post, I reviewed some free software which I thought was pretty good. Again a number of commenters liked it. Then one person accurately pointed out some failings in the software and said he was disappointed. Again fair enough, but it would have been nice if, instead of being completely negative, the commenter had recommended a free better alternative or one that they used themselves so again we would have learned something. But there was nothing.

So if you leave negative comments on tech tips blogs, help us all to learn from your comment and take something positive from it.

Any comment on blog comments? Drop a comment below.


Jul 8

closed comments

In the past, you’ve probably come across an interesting blog post and wanted to make a comment only to find that comments are closed, probably because a month or two has passed since the date of the post. Is closing comments a good idea? Why would you want to close comments anyway?

Well some people feel that it’s hard to deal with comment spam if all posts are left open but really, a good WordPress plugin like Akismet should deal with that. It may also be worth closing comments on posts which are no longer relevant, for example, old outdated tech news, or a post about a website or web service which is no longer available, or a contest which has finished.

I’ve kept comments open on all posts and I’m delighted to see that people are still commenting on older posts. Of course not everyone reading my posts subscribes to the blog so I don’t expect comments straight away or even in the first 2 weeks after posting. Many people are obviously reaching the posts from keyword search results at a later date and dropping comments when they have something to offer. Many of my posts are tips or things I’ve learned while working with my PC and software so if someone has a tip to improve on my tip or make me more productive then I’d really like to hear about it. I have updated posts in the past with tips in the comments. Also if readers find a post helpful I love to hear that too.

You can actually follow all comments on this blog in your RSS reader by subscribing to the comments feed. Just copy and paste that link into your RSS reader.

Do you close blog comments after a set time or leave them open indefinitely?


Mar 9

There are quite a few screen capture utilities out there including the basic Windows Snipping Tool which comes with Windows Vista and Windows 7. This is fine for a plain screen capture but if you’re a blogger, sooner or later you’re going to need to be able to annotate and obfuscate (blur) text in the image so an alternative utility has to be found. Here are some points to consider when making your choice.

Able to capture anything on your screen, not just in a browser window

This is the first problem I came across with a number of utilities including Awesome Screenshot, Aviary Screen Capture and other browser extensions which offer screen capture. You may occasionally want to capture part of an image from a file on your computer (not in your browser window), a Word or Excel screenshot, etc. and these in-browser utilities won’t work outside the browser window. Utilities like the Windows Snipping Tool, Greenshot, Shotty or PicPick will be fine here.

Launch from hotkey or delayed launch

Occasionally, you’ll want to capture a pop-up window or a drop-down menu in your screenshot. If you launch your screen capture utility with a mouse click, these windows will disappear. You’ll need to launch from a Hotkey like the Print Screen key so as to retain the pop-up window or drop-down menu on screen. Utilities like the Windows Snipping Tool, Greenshot, Shotty or PicPick will be fine here. Greenshot, Shotty and PicPick launch from Hotkeys and here’s how to  launch the Windows Snipping Tool from a key combination.

Screen capture 1

Annotate image and obfuscate sensitive text

A utility that doesn’t do this isn’t much use for bloggers. You’ll occasionally need to be able to draw text on the image, highlight parts of the image, draw arrows to point out certain features, and obfuscate (blur) any sensitive text. Utilities like Greenshot or Shotty will mostly work. However, Greenshot has to annotate with text in a text box which you don’t always want. Yes, you can set the box outline to zero width but the text box still obliterates underlying features. Sometimes I just want to add text without a box and without hiding the underlying features. On the other hand, Shotty will do this, but there is no facility to draw arrows in Shotty. However, PicPick is able to annotate text directly on the image, obfuscate text and draw arrows. Here’s a screenshot of a screenshot in PicPick showing blurring, text annotation, box highlighting and arrows.

Screen capture 2

Of the screen capture utilities I’ve looked at, PicPick is able to do all that I want.

Update (7 April 2012): PicPick can also capture a scrolling window which can be very useful. I understand this was buggy in the past but seems to be working fine on the current version.  Use the Screen Capture utility of PicPick and select Scrolling Window. Move the mouse until the window you want to capture has a red outline border, click the left mouse button then let go and be patient as it scrolls down through the window to the bottom. Then it opens the complete window in the PicPick editor.

Which screen capture utility do you use?  Drop a comment below.

 


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