Category Archives: internet

Using Xara Xtreme to create a web site

Thanks to Xara Xtreme, I’ve just created what is by far the most attractive web site I’ve ever created in my life.  Unfortunately, however, it has a couple of problems.  First of all, in order to inject PayPal buttons into the site, I had to do the export to .HTML and then edit the .html files to insert the PayPal snippets.  That means the next time I make a change and do another export, I’ll have to repeat that process.  Yuck.

Equally bad, I noticed that a lot of my text is actually images inserted into the page.  That means it’s about as search engine-unfriendly as you can get.  It’s as if there is virtually no content on my site, from a search engine’s perspective.

What’s odd is that there is some text, but not a lot.  I don’t understand Xara well enough yet to figure out when it chooses to put in text versus when it chooses to do the image-based text thing.  I realize that they are trying to give you true WYSIWYG layout, but these are some pretty hefty shortcomings.

If anyone can set me straight on how to do this right, I’d welcome the education!

Free trial of Maileable

For years now, I’ve been managing my email, fighting spam, and spotting phishing emails through the use of an email routing system that I developed.  The problem with today’s email system is that anyone can put email into your inbox without anything more than your email address.  Yes, you can put things like filters, whitelists, and such into the mix, but they are, in my opinion, poor substitutes for a real solution to the problem.

My email routing system has to do with putting a configurable router in between all email senders and your inbox, so that no one has free, direct access to your inbox.  The key is to give different email addresses to different email senders.  As untenable as that may sound, it works extremely well and *is* absolutely manageable.  I’ve been doing it since a trip down the Colorado River in 2003 had me panicked about missing important emails because my 10MB mailbox was going to fill up with spam.

At that time, I devised what has evolved into today’s Maileable system.  Maileable is a turn-key email routing system that anyone can use to easily route emails from different sources to different destinations including the bit bucket.  And it can’t be spoofed.

Unlike email filters that try to ascertain an email’s legitimacy based on its content and other metadata (every bit of which can be fabricated), Maileable works on the To address of an email, the one and only thing you can count on to be correct.  If it’s coming to you, you know the email address it was sent to.  And that’s the only thing you need to know with Maileable.

This is the only system that works within today’s SMTP protocol and doesn’t rely on hope.  Filters make you hope that they catch the bad stuff and let the good stuff through.  Validation systems make you hope that the people and automated systems that send you email will go through the trouble of validating themselves to get past them.  Maileable is a solid system that puts the power in the email recipient’s hands, which is a place where it has never been before with SMTP.

The Maileable beta is now available for anyone to try.

The functionality is about 95% complete, but there are a few cosmetic improvements to be made.  Things will get prettier.  New and powerful features will be forthcoming, as well.

To understand what Maileable is and how it works, read the free Getting Started guide from https://www.maileable.com/GettingStartedWithMaileable.pdf.  It will walk you through the entire process in detail with dozens of screenshots.

If you’re a Windows user, you can download the free installer from http://maileable.com/prog/maileable-installer.exe.

If you use another operating system, I’m going to have to do some more research and coding before your version is available.  It would help me to know what operating system you use, so that I can prioritize my efforts.  If you want to weigh in on this, please send an email to Maileable support with your platform preferences.

I am eager to make this system widely available, so please feel free to tell others about the free beta.  I sincerely believe this is an important tool for protecting your identity, making your email work for you, and keeping you efficient.  It has certainly been all of that and more for me.

When it comes time to pay for this service, around late June, I will be offering irresistable pricing to beta testers, so please try this out and help me confirm that it works for you.  Stay in touch if things go wrong by emailing Maileable support.  And I’d like to hear your feedback, good or bad, so that I can tweak and adjust to make this the best possible product.

The pain of finding a domain name

I know why Web 2.0 brings with it all the groovy spellings and made up words like Flickr, Friendster, and Facebook (and that’s just the F’s). It’s because the damned cybersquatters have already registered every decent English word and phrase you can imagine.  There’s nothing left for the people who are actually trying to do something.
There is nothing more infuriating than coming up with the perfect domain/product name and finding that it’s unavailable. Worse still is when there is nothing occupying that domain but one of those sleazy Google AdWords pages that add no value to the Internet. I am all for personal freedom and believe in capitalism, but there ought to be a way to shut down these leeches. I have a long list of domains I tried this morning that were unavailable, 95% of which pointed to nothing of value.

What’s always interesting is how adversity builds character and forces you to innovate. As frustrating and disappointing as it was that my “perfect” domain, ultimail.com, was taken and nothing but an AdWords site, I think I came up with something that I like even better. It’s one of those little gems that I might not have stumbled upon, had my first choice not been taken.

I give you Maileable.

What an accomplishment!

Who ever would have thought that moving a blog could be such a major endeavor?!

For about three years, I’ve been running my blog on Pebble, a Java-based web app, running in Tomcat. For some reason, though, Pebble sort of lost its mind many months ago. I’ve been unable to post, or I could post and it would then vanish. My catalina.log file is loaded with stack traces from Pebble. Sometimes they come every few seconds. You can imagine how that adds up over months.

So, temporarily, I started blogging at another site, http://urlinone.com/blog, running WordPress. And in my Pebble template, I put a big header that said my blog had moved. Ugly.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been slowly dealing with this issue. The first problem was moving all the Pebble posts to a new instance of WordPress. Unfortunately, they have completely different URL schemes, so, even if I could move all the posts, all the links out there in the world would now point to pages that WordPress couldn’t serve. Enter Ruby.

I used Ruby to spider my own site, creating directories and HTML pages to mirror my Pebble blog. This was complicated by the fact that, as I mentioned, Pebble had lost its mind. So, many pages that should have had content actually did not. And the links were, therefore, missing, as well. So my spidering effort ended up being a multi-step process of spidering a bunch of smaller, disconnected webs, rather than one big one. I also took this opportunity to zap all the spam comments, so they didn’t end up in my legacy blog.

At last, I uploaded all these now static blog pages up to my web host, so that all the old URLs will still find a page present (albeit static). Unfortunately, I forgot to remove the “This blog has moved” header from all the static pages, so I’ll have to go back and take care of that.

Next, I had to do an export from the temporary blog at http://www.urlinone.com/blog, so that I could import it into the soon-to-be new WordPress blog for http://www.leegrey.com/hmm. That, I’m happy to say, went very smoothly. One interesting note… My first export was done before deleting all the comments that Akismet had caught. It was 237KB. Then I deleted all the spam comments and did another export. 38KB. Sheesh! If only I was as prolific as the spammers.

Now came the real fun. I had to figure out how to modify the DNS zone file for the web host where Pebble is running, so that I could essentially split my domain. I only wanted to move my blog to the other web host running WordPress. All my other subdomains and my email, FTP, SSH, and such needed to stay put. I had never tried to do anything quite this sophisticated in a zone file before, but I spent some time learning about DNS, and it turned out to be pretty easy. The key was discovering that CNAMEs are basically aliases for A records.

All I had to do was create a couple of new A records for leegrey.com. and www.leegrey.com., pointing to the IP address of the server hosting WordPress. Everything else was using a CNAME that didn’t seem to be affected by my changes. The most confusing part was the fact that there was a record identified as @, which, in this case, represented leegrey.com. I was afraid that everything was going to break when I changed that to point to the foreign web host. It seemed like moving the root of a directory tree, so that everything below it would also be moved. Fortunately, I was able to simply comment out the A record for the @, explicitly define the two new A records, and the rest stayed as is. So far, it all looks okay. My only concern is the propagation delay with DNS changes. I’m not sure if I’m seeing cached info that will break in a couple of days. I’m most worried about my MX records being hosed and my email suddenly going silent.

All I can say is, it was fun using Pebble for a while. And I’m so happy to be on WordPress now! It’ll be a long, long time before I change blog software again.

The era of the disingenuous recommendation

We live in a time when peoples’ opinions have become suspect.

I was just looking through my Amazon wishlist and noticed a pattern. Most of the marketing-oriented books have five-star reviews. I remember the launches of a few of those books. There was the push to drive the book to #1 on Amazon through concerted effort and orchestrated buying. There were the incentivized reviews. There’s the good ol’ boy network (fellow authors of marketing books) scratching each other’s backs.

But if you weren’t privy to these marketing events, you would just believe this is one damn good book. And maybe it is. But, then again, maybe the reviewers never even read it. Maybe they even reviewed it on the day they ordered it from Amazon. Or in lieu of buying it.

The state-of-the-art in Internet Marketing these days is to set up product “review” sites that contain affiliate links to go buy the product. How pure are these reviews? Do you really need to ask?

The really cutting-edge marketers create AdWords campaigns that feign negative or controversial reviews. Click on these links thinking you’re going to get the real “dirt” on a product, and you find, surprise, surprise, that they didn’t like the color of the cover but loved the product, or something equally informative.

eBay feedback often looks like “Awesome seller!!!! Fantastic Value!!!! A++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++” for the purchase of a $5 iPod cable.

Your MLM friends and family will tell you how you’ve just got to get into this opportunity, when they haven’t made a penny and have alienated everyone within earshot.

With more and more recommendations these days, there comes a perk for the recommender. Word-of-mouth has been co-opted to the point that you can’t trust it. You need to scrutinize not only the review, but the reviewer, and the incentive for the review.

Beware the ulterior motive.

The Problem With The Internet

Did you ever wonder what the problem is with the Internet? Well, you’re in luck, because I’m going to tell you.

No, it’s not that it’s too slow. It’s not that it costs too much. It’s not that you can’t get broadband on your wristwatch.

The problem with the Internet is that it puts us in contact with people with which we never would have had contact before the Internet existed. Now, clearly, this is a wonderful thing, too. The world is filled with wonderful people that we never would have had the good fortune to meet, had it not been for the wonder of the World Wide Web.

However, the world is also filled with bad people too. I’m talking Bad. Evil. Sick. Selfish. Twisted. Scary. And now they have a way into your home, your digital assets, and your mind.

It used to be that such people were far, far away. You never had to worry about encountering them, unless you wandered into the wrong neighborhood. But, today, they’re dropping email into your inbox, trying to install bad software on your computer, trying to steal your identity. It’s enough to make you consider becoming Amish.

That’s one part of the equation. Part two is the fact that the Internet, and particularly Web 2.0, has made everyone a publisher. Everyone is creating content. We used to have three television networks, a handful of magazines, and a few radio stations. Now, there’s more online content than anyone could possibly consume. Blogs, podcasts, videos, social networks, comments on all of the above, etc. It’s as if every moment on the planet is available online from every perspective, not to mention the commentary on it all.

Part three of this equation is the anonymity of the Internet. Since people are not looking each other in the eye and have no need to provide their actual identity during all of this publishing, there is no accountability. Standards of quality, morality, and ethics are easily lowered. So what gets published is far from the best that we have to offer.

Combine these three, and you get the “perfect storm” of social decay.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the Internet is a wonderful thing. It has the potential to do so much good that it is almost utopian. But that can only happen if we as the inhabitants aspire to such high ideals. And with so much that is less than ideal, we face a mighty challenge.

I suspect that society will eventually demand some accountability in the online world, at least in some areas, or the Internet will fail to live up to its potential. I’m not talking about legal reform; I’m referring to social mores that dictate what is socially acceptable and what is considered outside the realm of acceptable behavior. And I suspect that anonymity will begin to become frowned upon.

In fact, I suspect that something like the online equivalent of a Drivers License will become essential for having your blog read, your comments accepted, your email delivered, etc. Preventing anonymity would go a long way toward extending our social values to the Internet. If we don’t bring the same values to the Internet that we bring to our real world interactions, it will eventually fade to nothing more than a source of entertainment and escape, rather than an extension of our “real” lives.

We already see the beginning of this with eBay feedback and new Web 2.0 reputation services. While it seems like a shame to lose the freedom to just be free, a little bit of shame goes a long way toward building a society that really works. Some of us need such pressures to keep us in line.

Did you know about this TLD???

I was reading a milk carton this morning (I had already finished the cereal box :-) and spotted the strangest URL I had ever seen. It said organicvalley.coop. I thought “What a poor proofreading job, to put a nonexistent URL on your product package.”

Well, it turns out that there’s nothing wrong with their proofreader. That’s a legitimate domain. You can browse to http://www.organicvalley.coop and read about the people who make my milk. It’s not a fluke domain, either, because there’s a link on there to http://www.farmers.coop.

I checked GoDaddy, and they don’t seem to have a way to register a .coop domain. Where does such a thing come from? It seems so obscure; I wonder how .coop managed to get approved, considering all the other TLDs have been rejected.

More importantly, how do I register chicken.coop?!

Update: Organizations can purchase .coop domains at http://www.nic.coop. Individuals are not eligible to purchase .coop domains.  It appears that someone is squatting (the mind reels with puns) on http://www.chicken.coop.  Darn the luck; it’d be worth forming an organization around that domain name.