Happy New Year!

I’m a bit late on this one, approved but I just wanted to say Happy New Year to anyone who comes by the blog (which oddly appears to pull in most of its new traffic through a random tip about Notepad++).

The year is going great for me so far and I hope it’s going well for you too!

Go out and make this the best year of your life so far! Even if there is a bunch of competition to earn that title (meaning that you’ve had some pretty spectacular years), approved just think back on your worst year. It had some competition too, didn’t it? See… setting records in your life is totally do-able.

Seize 2009! :D

Unpacking the new place

Recently I moved into a new apartment. Having unloaded everything from the U-Haul, human enhancement I had a packed living room and only a couple of hours before I had to go to sleep. I figured this would be a great chance to try out making a time-lapse video using my webcam. I unfortunately messed up and did the recording before buying the license to the software, web so it has a watermark on it. The real time elapsed was 2 hours (I tried to show the time on my watch but it was really blurry).

This is my first video on YouTube! Here it is:

And yes, dentist I do have shirts other than the Minion of PittGirl shirt. I just happened to have been photographed both times I’ve worn it.

“What gets measured gets managed”

That quote is a relatively common business adage which is attributed to a ton of different people – so many that I’ll just consider it public domain. The reason for this post is just that I’d like to draw attention to it and maybe as you read this post, decease you can think of how this can be used to help your own productivity and success.

As with any business advice, ed this tends to be more digestible with some anecdotes so I’ll give a couple of examples of how this has helped me lately with running LyricWiki.org.

Example Uno: Server Uptime

Without a doubt, sickness the biggest problem with LyricWiki up until recently had been uptime. The site was constantly slow or completely unavailable from its inception. The reason is that we were always short on servers since the company had minimal capital, and setting up new servers took a great deal of time and fell on my shoulders during a time in my life where I always had at least one fulltime responsibility other than LyricWiki.

When I cut back my other job a bit to give me more time to devote to LyricWiki, one of the first things I set out to fix was the reliability of the site. In order to know if it was improving, I would need to know how long the site was down each month so I could track whether the number of minutes was going up or down.

I created a small spreadsheet to track outages, and each time the site went down I logged when the outage was, the duration (in minutes) of the outage, which server(s) had the problems, the apparent cause and whether or not the cause was resolved. Much to my surprise, I didn’t really need to graph this over the months. After the first couple of days, it became very apparent that there was one huge problem still lingering and it would be worth my time to automate a fix to it instead of responding ad-hoc each time the problem cropped up.

I whipped up the code to solve the problem while I was on a layover in Philadelphia, uploaded it when I got home – and the site stayed up for almost a month straight! That’s pretty huge. I don’t think that had ever happened in LyricWiki history until just now. Very cool.

Example Dos: Intractable To-do Lists

A major personal time-management problem I had recently was that I couldn’t tell if I was just spinning my wheels or if I was actually making progress on my backlog of LyricWiki tasks. It felt as though I was getting emailed so much work that I barely ever got to break out into the tasks on my talk page let alone the “Mid-term Actions” list I made which was my conscious plan of how to make LyricWiki rock your socks off in the mid-term.

To solve this problem of not having a grasp on my tasks, I whipped up a little widget which you can see in the side-column of the blog, near the bottom. The results were much better than I expected: I actually instantly felt like I was in more control, I felt comfortable removing tasks that were duplicated across lists, and I can finally tell when I’m moving fast enough to make forward progress.

The widget tracks the size of all of my various to-do lists and updates that number hourly. There are two reasons for the caching: 1) checking the lists requires hitting the sites and that takes at least 3 seconds total 2) if it updated in real-time, I’d sit there refreshing the thing all day!

The widget actually has some neat hidden features. Here is the to-do list widget on its own page which also tracks the number of tasks I’ve had at the end of each day and charts my progress (using the Google Charts API). If anyone is interested, maybe I’ll write another post where I give out the source-code to the widget.

Conveniently, the widget is narrow enough to both fit in a blog sidebar and be displayed on a smartphone. It’s currently the homepage on my blackberry and I don’t see that changing any time soon!


The quote “what gets measured gets managed” always seems to ring true for me. I think of it again and again – usually after-the-fact when I’ve just saved time by being OCD about something. I strongly recommend that you take a second (right now) and think of an area of your life or your work which you feel isn’t getting sufficient attention and consider tracking meaningful statistics about it. Please share any similar successful experiences in the comments!

How to restore WordPress categories

After upgrading to the latest version of WordPress, vitamin the text of all of the categories were deleted. It appears this may be my fault for not disabling all of the plugins before doing the upgrade (oops). They’re back now though. It was somewhat annoying to have to do, here but as far as “data loss error”s go, ambulance it wasn’t very bad at all.

I noticed a bunch of other people online had similar problems but nobody mentioned a solution so I figured I might as well throw up a quick description of what I did.

I used google to find a cached version of my page which listed all of the categories in the side-bar. Now I had all of the categories but I didn’t know which id in the database matched which category. I found that out by running this query:
SELECT post_title, term_taxonomy_id FROM wp_posts,wp_term_relationships WHERE wp_term_relationships.object_id=wp_posts.ID ORDER BY term_taxonomy_id;
Which shows what posts were assigned to each category. After reading through the list and figuring it out, I was able to fix the text by typing queries along the lines of:
UPDATE wp_terms SET name='Motive Force', slug='motive-force' WHERE term_id=8;

Since I brushed over it above:
To find a cached version of your site on google, just search for “site:YOURDOMAINNAMEHERE.com”, then click on “Cached” next to any of the results. They clear those out after a while, so don’t put it off!

Quick Tip: Beep when a long process is complete over SSH

When you’re running a long command on a terminal over SSH, illness you may end up wasting a great deal of time checking back repeatedly to see if the process is complete. A quick alternative would be to make the shell beep when it’s complete. Assuming you are running a script called “longScript.sh”, then simply typing a line like:
> longScript.sh; printf \a
Will cause most SSH clients to beep after longScript.sh is finished running.

Hope that helps!

How Google Steals from Publishers

I recently discovered a very shady practice in AdSense for Search where they make you believe you are earning revenue, no rx then quietly at the end of the month they deduct a fee at payment-time equal to the amount you earned (ie: you net nothing).

It’s pretty hard to believe, what is ed to the point that you may think I’m confused. However, I’ve checked. I’ve double checked. I’ve uttered expletives, calmed myself down and checked a few more times. Here’s the money shot:
AdSense sketchinessI checked back and they’ve been doing this for months. I checked the documentation that’s linked to from that “Fees” line, and long-story-short: it’s a hidden fee affecting “less than 1%” of users which they don’t warn you about nor give an explanation of how to avoid it. It’s also barely mentioned at all in their Terms & Conditions (section 11, second sentence) which, of course, protects them legally but is an extremely shady business practice even if they had explained it in detail in the T&C.

This post probably isn’t very eloquent at the moment. It’s hard to write intelligently with steam pouring out of your ears. So without further ado, here is a copy of the letter I sent to their Customer Support which has much more information.

Open Letter to Google AdSense

I’d like to express my extreme dissatisfaction with the hidden AdSense for Search fees. I feel that the way in which you handle these fees is disingenuous on several levels and jeopardizes your integrity from a publisher’s perspective.

There are several areas where I think you guys really dropped the ball:
– When we sign up for AdSense for search there is no visible indication that there was even a possibility of getting charged. Burying it deep in the Terms and Conditions isn’t sufficient when it is completely contrary to the ad-network model of publishers-use-your-network… publishers-get-paid.
– There was no warning at all while this was happening. I very regularly check my stats on AdSense for the day and the month and there wasn’t any indication that each day my revenue was in fact zero, not the number I was being shown. Even if users are aware of this policy, they won’t know that they’re not making money until after the month is over and you decide to take it away.
– There is no easy way to notice this discrepancy after the fact. Old monthly reports will STILL show fake revenue (“fake” because you may take away every cent of it), and they do not show the deduction. Even upon looking at the payment history, there is no indication on THAT page of the deduction unless you drill down to yet ANOTHER page.
– There was never a notification that this was happening even though your FAQ alludes to this being extremely rare (“less than 1% will be affected” in answer 9890), my notification settings are set to the highest level possible, and this program even had the nerve to send me an ad on “New and improved AdSense for search” so I could generate even more money for your program of which I would not see a cent.
– The documentation mentions that some magical equation may take our money at the end of the month but does not provide any transparency into 1) what the metrics were that caused this or 2) how to avoid having this happen again. For what it’s worth: I’ve looked back through my payment history and every cent of revenue from when I first started AdSense for Search back in September has been taken every month, so this isn’t a fluke. Something about my site is angering your algorithm.

I feel robbed. Worse than just tricked; I feel like you stole money (hundreds of dollars) that I had every reason to expect was earned and was going to be direct-deposited.

One of AdSense’s differentiators is that it’s simple and turn-key so that publishers can focus on creating a valuable website instead of dealing with ad sales or applying to ad networks. If publishers have to spend time pouring over every available report to watch our backs for hidden fees, then your offering would clearly fall short in providing that value.

Based on this lack of disclosure, I think your fees should be re-evaluated. I ask that you let me know what you think is fair.

*Shuts eyes & takes a deep breath*. Hokay, I’m back now. I’ll keep you updated when/if I hear back from them.

Must-have feature for web-apps: auto-update.

It’s been a pet-peeve of mine for some time now that creators of web-apps (like myself) haven’t been holding ourselves to the same standards as creators of desktop apps. One of the major justifications for calling our products “applications” (as opposed to just “really good web sites”) is that we’re claiming you get the same level of functionality as a comparable downloadable desktop version.

Currently this just isn’t the case. When is the last time you went through the following process to update a program on your desktop:

  1. Check the creator’s website frequently to see if there are updates
  2. If there is an update, cialis 40mg go through a directory of a bunch of different versions and figure out which one you want since “most-recent” and “stable” are almost always different versions
  3. Download the files
  4. Unzip the files into a separate folder
  5. Make backups of your existing installation if desired
  6. Copy the files from the new folder into your existing installation

Seriously? This may look absurd to most users (I hope it does), diagnosis but this is exactly the status quo for updating web-apps. I don’t know of a single web-app with acceptable update abilities. The closest thing is the DreamHost one-click-installs/updates of applications, but that’s something they have to write themselves for each app and isn’t part of the applications themselves.

I recently found out that I’m not alone in desiring this: it is currently the most-requested idea on WordPress Ideas site (which is like Motive Suggest for WordPress).

It’d certainly be complex to write an auto-updater since there are so many different systems the apps can be installed on. However, desktop installers were never easy to write either and we’ve come to expect them. My suggestion is that web-apps have one setting that allows complete auto-updates (but this option is disabled by default). The more normal use-case would be that the app checks a webservice to figure out if it’s up to date. If not, a very visible “upgrade now” button would be shown to the administrators when they log in. This button could be highlighted yellow for normal updates and red for security-critical updates. For extreme security-crucial updates, the app could actually email its administrators to notify them that there is a critical update and should have a link to kick off the upgrade. Since each version of the app itself is sending this alert, the administrators don’t have to join anyone’s mailing list to get these alerts (so they maintain their privacy).

Just a thought. I’m anxious to release a downloadable framework now just so I could include updating and hopefully start a trend (OffhandWay, MotiveSuggest, SiloSync?). Also, if you see instances of this type of feature in the wild, please let me know!

SiloSync Survey Results

The overarching theme of the SiloSync Survey was that people really want to back up their data from Facebook!

Since the results were in order of preference and the questions could all have multiple answers, caries I made a simple scoring scheme. I assigned 5 points for the first answer, medicine 4 for the second, etc.. The 5th answer and beyond were all 1 point.

The results:

What would you use SiloSync for?

  1. 24 points – Backing up data
  2. 13 points – Leaving a social network if it gets shady
  3. 8 points – Keeping profiles on multiple social networks in sync
  4. 4 points – Quickly joining new social networks w/o re-setting up

Those results were amusing since the whole mainstream-blogosphere data-portability argument seems to be focused on the lowest-ranking result. Basically small startups want to take away Facebook’s edge so they’re pushing that one the hardest (I don’t blame them). It’s good to have some actual input from users so I can make SiloSync the best possible!

Onto which social networks the respondents were interested in:

Which sites would you like to be able to grab data FROM?

  1. 27 points – Facebook
  2. 11 points – WordPress
  3. 7 points – LinkedIn
  4. 6 points – Blogger
  5. 5 points – GMail & Flickr
  6. 3 points – LiveJournal, Voicemail
  7. 1 point – Twitter

No suprise that Facebook dominated that one. MySpace got served: no one even mentioned it. MySpace also got ignored in the next section on exporting data. However, keep in mind that this section isn’t too important since the people surveyed indicated that they are much more interested in getting their data out than sending it other places.

Where would you like to be able to export your data TO?

  1. 17 points – LinkedIn
  2. 11 points – Facebook
  3. 8 points – Twitter & SiloXML (ie: an open XML format)
  4. 5 points – Gmail
  5. 4 points – Pedlr
  6. 3 points – WordPress
  7. 2 points – Blogger
  8. 1 point – LiveJournal

There you have it! Everyone hearts Facebook a whole-bunch but doesn’t trust them one iota with their personal data. It’s a good thing too because they’re riddled with security flaws (but that’s for another post) and pull stuff like the NewsFeed & Beacon.

Big thanks to everyone who took the survey for me. It helps a ton when approaching a project this large to know which parts are desired the most.

… guess I’d better get to work on SiloSync now, huh?