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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

State of the Blog
Hard as it may be to believe, this blog is coming up on its 11th anniversary. In other words, I've been blogging for more than a third of my life, and all of my adult life. Of course, the blog has seen varying levels of activity over the years, but has remained remarkably consistent over the past few years, largely due to my Sunday/Wednesday schedule. Anywho, I thought I'd take a look at the past year of statistics and see what that shows me. Some generic stuff:
  • 36,815 Visits
  • 54,408 Pageviews
  • Approximately 75% of traffic comes from search engines (approx. 62% of total site traffic comes from Google)
  • The remaining 25% are split between referring sites (13%) and direct load (12%)
Now, I have set up my analytics software to ignore me, and this is mostly successful, though there are definitely times when the cookie gets cleared somehow, so I'm sure some of the above is me. But you're not seeing the full brunt of my obsessive site-checking.

So what are the most popular pages?
  • Weblog main page is obviously the biggest winner here, with 18% of pageviews
  • Time Travel in Donnie Darko seems to be the most popular single entry on the blog. Google seems to be the biggest referrer, though I do frequently see people coming from facebook.
  • Samoas vs Caramel DeLites is also quite popular. The interesting thing about this one is that it only really gets traffic in January, February, and March (i.e. when Girl Scout cookies are sold). Facebook and other referring sites seem to make up a bigger percentage of the referrers for this one...
  • Sins of a Solar Empire: Lessons Learned, Sorta is a funny one to be popular, as I suck at that game. It's what's known in the biz as a "PC ass PC Game", meaning that it's ridiculously complicated, with a huge learning curve and a crappy tutorial. Apparently this post has a great google ranking for people looking for a guide to the game (of which the post really isn't).
  • Cowboy Bebop: The Ending is also a popular post, presumably because I'm so brilliant.
  • A Reflexive Media gets a bunch of traffic as well, usually from folks looking to understand Reflexive Documentaries.
  • Bear Pajamas gets a ridiculous amount of traffic given the trivial nature of the post (about how a character in an Anime wears Bear Pajamas)
  • Neal Stephenson Category Archive gets a nice amount of traffic, which isn't all that surprising.
  • Interrupts and Context Switching gets some love too, which is reassuring, as it's one of my favorite posts.
Mind you, those are only blog posts I'm referencing. Older stuff from the pre-blog days still gets a lot of traffic too, most notably my in-depth review of Hitchcock's Rear Window and my Guide to Isaac Asimov (which I wrote when I was a teenager and should probably revise at some point, as it's pretty embarrassingly bad).

I've definitely settled into a bit of a groove on the blog, and I can tell you that I spend less time writing posts these days. I have mentioned a few times that I need to shake things up a bit, but I have had limited success with that. I've generally noticed that my posting goes in waves. Sometimes I'll be inspired and have no problem writing new, interesting stuff. Other times, not so much (which is when you get simple posts like a link dump or something). Yeah, this isn't exactly an earth shattering observation, but still. In reality, I tend to be pretty hard on myself when I'm in the midst of writing - I'm usually not super happy with a post when I publish, but if I revisit later, I'm often surprised by what I wrote. I usually like it a lot more after the fact. Go figure. In any case, the blog must go on, even if it does get stuck in a rut every now and again (hopefully, it's at least an entertaining rut!)
Posted by Mark on June 29, 2011 at 07:32 PM .: Comments (3) | link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Link Dump & Notes
Just some interesting links and some notes about upcoming posts and whatnot:
  • First, an announcement! The Oscars are this Sunday, and in accordance with tradition, I will be liveblogging the event, as I have for the past 7 years (!) Feel free to stop by and leave some comments! Previous installments here: [2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004]
  • An update on Game Dev Story! I've finally figured out how to hire a "Hardware Engineer" and thus was able to create my own console. Well, I found this DIY Gamer page, which explains it:
    Perhaps the biggest secret in Game Dev Story, bagging a hardware engineer is simple - if expensive - stuff. The idea is to level up one of your staff to the max in every type of role. This can be done with a combination of development points and Career Change Manuals (from the salesman). Level your chosen character up to level 5 in whatever role they’re in, then use the Career Change Manual to swap their job to something they aren’t already level 5 in.

    Level them up to level 5 in this role, then repeat until they are level 5 in every available role. Now use the Career Change Manual on them once more, and the Hardware Engineer role will now be available for selection. Choose this, and you’ll then be able to develop your own console.
    Sweet. Of course, I'm now paying this person almost $2 million a year in salary, but hey, I got to create a console. And according to my records, my company has over $1 billion in reserve, so I should be all right (this is what happens when you sell 30-40 million units of each game). I still think there's a lot of room in this concept for a deeper dive into some of these details (for instance, shouldn't I get licensing fees from other developers who want to release games on my console? How about competition with other consoles? And so on...) but for a game that cost $0.99, I've had a blast.
  • The Boy Who Stole Half-Life 2 - I never heard of this until now, but it's an interesting story of some kid who stole the source code to Half-Life 2 before it was released. Very interesting stuff.
  • Black Widow Gone Wild - Heh.
  • Here Be Dragons: Governing a Technologically Uncertain Future 10 - An interview with Neal Stephenson on an earlier panel he participated in and the article he wrote (that I posted) a while back on the history of rocket technology. Some interesting stuff here, but it really just makes me want to read his new book (still no word on when that will be coming out, short of "2011" which is, uh, now).
That's all for now. Look for my Oscar picks early on Sunday. Updates after that will most likely begin when the show does (I really hate the damn red carpet crap, but sometimes I'm on a bit early anyway).
Posted by Mark on February 23, 2011 at 07:00 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Insert Spam Pun Here
So I upgraded Movable Type about two months ago, and for the most part, I think the version I'm using right now is great. However, it quickly became clear that my preferred spam fighting solution, CCode, was not working correctly, and indeed, it was messing up all of the fancy new authentication methods that MT was implementing. So I had to remove that and update the comment form code to reflect the new functionality. That seemed to go swimmingly, but due to a combination of factors, I've discovered a veritable plethora of spam comments pouring into my system.

The way it was set up was that anonymous comments end up being stored in "pending" status, meaning that I need to approve it before it shows up on the site. The tricky part there is that the default way MT displays comments when I log in doesn't register "pending" comments, so I never noticed that the spambots were quickly rediscovering my blog and having their way with my comment system.

Now, this isn't and hasn't ever been a particularly popular blog, so it's not uncommon to see a lack of comments. That being said, I began to get a bit suspicious after over a month with no comments. So I took a closer look and found 11,000 pending comments in the system. The grand majority of these were placed in the past couple of weeks, and looking at the comments shows an interesting progression from the time I upgraded to the present. At first, only a couple of comments were submitted per day, then a few more, then a dozen, then a few dozen, then hundreds, and recently it's been in the thousands. So a few hours ago, I turned off anonymous comments, which effectively muted the spam, but which I suppose also presents more of a hurdle towards casual or new readers.

The great thing about CCode was that it was completely transparent to everyone but the spammers. It stopped spam cold, but visitors to my site didn't have to do anything differently (except that their browser had to be javascript enabled, which is hardly a big hurdle for, well, just about anyone) and I didn't have to wade through thousands of spam submissions. It would be really nice if the developer who originally wrote CCode (or someone else) would update it to work with MT5, but it doesn't look like it's been updated since 2007, so I'm guessing that won't happen anytime soon.

All of which is to say that if you submitted a comment in the past month or two, it may be deleted in the great purge I'm about to implement here. Sorry about that. Also, you may see some funkiness happening with the comment forms below. If you have a Google or Yahoo account (among a few others), you should be able to use that to comment for now. I'm trying to figure out a way to reinstate anonymous commenting without resorting to CAPTCHAs or other intrusive methods, but it will most likely be slow going.

In any case, I'll leave you with my favorite piece of spam from this latest attack:
I tried to publish a comment previously, but it has not shown up. I think your spam filter may be broken?
This would be hysterical if it wasn't so annoying...
Posted by Mark on December 02, 2010 at 08:29 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Upgradation
I'm in the process of upgrading some of the software that drives the site, including Movable Type (which runs this blog). Which is to say, you may see some issues with some of the dynamic features (like comments or the pagination). There's no specific problem that's causing me to upgrade or anything, I just figured it was about time.

Update: Upgrade is complete. I hope. No unintended consequences as of yet, but I haven't tested commenting yet, and the thing I'm most worried about is my anti-spam functionality. The version I'm using was built for MT4, but it seems pretty straightforward - hopefully it will work on MT5. Pagination seems fine.

Again Update: All quiet on the internet front. Upgrade has gone well. Too well. Suspiciously well. But for now, everything is ok. See you tomorrow with some zombie movies!
Posted by Mark on October 09, 2010 at 01:27 PM .: Comments (3) | link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Decade of Kaedrin Weblog
Believe it or not, it's been ten years since I started blogging here. Sure, I started the website even before then and the blog has changed a lot since those initial entries, but it's still an important milestone. Going back to read those first posts is a bit painful, what with the embarrassing attempts at humor and reliance on some of the lame weblog tropes of the day, but I'm ultimately pretty happy with my blog.

In the beginning, I had focused on smaller entries and reached a peak posting rate of just a little less than one a day. However, this was unsustainable, especially if I didn't just want to keep repeating stuff that other people were posting. From there, things floundered a bit for about a year or two until I set a weekly schedule for myself, committing to at least one entry a week (on Sunday). The thought was that having a regular posting interval would make it easier on readers, who would know when to expect new content. The schedule was later amended to include at least two entries a week, and I've kept to that schedule pretty well over the past several years.

I'd also like to think that the quality of my writing has improved, though I have to say that I feel like I've been a bit of a funk lately. I've been relying on formulaic and not terribly inspired posts like link dumps and doing less writing of consequence. More and more it seems like I don't really have a good idea what I'm going to write about when I sit down on Wednesday or Sunday, and all too often, I end up firing out an entry in about an hour or so (this post will probably fall into that category, though I knew I wanted to write it). These entries often come out better than I thought at the time, but they're still not my best work. I've been blogging long enough to recognize that this sort of thing happens from time to time though, and I often feel better after a few months, so I'm not looking to make any drastic changes. I considered taking some time off to see if my brain would recharge or reconfigure itself or something, but I think whatever success I've had with this blog has been due to my schedule. Plus, I do have some longer and more involved pieces in the works, so hopefully I'll be able to polish some of those off soon...

One of the interesting things about running a blog for so long is that I've developed some strange habits. For instance, I often find myself thinking about whether or not something I'm doing or watching or reading is blog-worthy. A lot of people blog because they have something to say or because it's timely and relevant, and I suppose I do that too, but I also blog to learn about things that interest me. Most current events don't really fall into that category until after the fact (if at all). But I am, of course, interested in lots of things and even writing a quick post on a complex subject can lead to deeper understanding. Writing a a longer form essay often takes me to all sorts of interesting places that I never even intended to visit when I started writing, and those end up being my favorite posts. Usually such posts burrow into my mind and grow follow-up posts (which is perhaps another thing that only a blogger could appreciate).

In the ten years I've been running the blog, I've never really had that large of an audience. I've had a small and loyal following, and for those readers I am very grateful, but this blog was never entirely about that. Of course, the blog is public, and so I do very much appreciate whatever limited attention I get, but it's always been more about what interests me at any given time, and often that doesn't lend itself to the sort of thing that make blogs popular (i.e. timely events and controversial stances in short, easy to read chunks, etc...). This isn't a complaint, as I don't think I'd enjoy having a tremendously popular blog; that entails all sorts of other frustrations that I'd rather not deal with.

In any case, since I've already done a detailed look at the history of the site, I figure there's not much to say at this point. I realized that I hadn't updated the Best Entries category in a few years, so I added a bunch of posts I thought worthy (if you have any favorites of your own, let me know) and hopefully I'll be writing many more posts that belong there in the future. Just for the heck of it, here are some of my favorite posts from the past year or so: And I think that about wraps it up for now.
Posted by Mark on July 18, 2010 at 08:05 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Another Store You Made
I'm totally stealing an idea from Jason Kottke here (let's call it a meme!), but it's kinda neat:
Whenever I link to something at Amazon on kottke.org, there's an affiliate code associated with the link. When I log into my account, I can access a listing of what people bought1. The interesting bit is that everything someone buys after clicking through to Amazon counts and is listed, even items I didn't link to directly. These purchased-but-unlinked-to items form a sort of store created by kottke.org readers of their own accord.
I have about 1/1000000th the readership of Kottke, but I do have an Amazon affiliate account (it doesn't even come close to helping pay for the site, but it does feed my book/movie/music/video game addictions). Of course, I don't sell nearly as much stuff either, but here are a few things sold that haven't been directly linked: And that about covers the unexpected stuff. I do get lots of Asimov orders as well as Christmas movie orders, but those are popular sections of the site...
Posted by Mark on November 18, 2009 at 07:23 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Upgrades and Problems
I'm in the process of updating the site's software for both Movable Type and the forum. This may cause issues in the near future. This process started last week, but the problem has expanded a bit, so I'm still working through a few things.

Unfortunately, this site seems to have become the target of some malicious hackers who are exploiting some sort of vulnerability to inject code into some index files. Near as I can tell, the blog is among the least affected sections of the site (perhaps because it is consistently refreshed (and thus overwritten)). At this point, I think I've done everything I can do. I've contacted my host as well, so hopefully they can help me diagnose the problem. Sorry for any inconvenience. Hopefully this will be resolved soon.

Update: Spoke with my host. They inspected my account and all appears to be well for now. The recommended using some different FTP and account settings, but otherwise I seem to have done all that I can at this point. Software updated, passwords changed, all known issues removed, etc... I'll just have to keep an extra close eye on the site for the time being.

Again Update: It appears that the upgrade to Movable Type broke the pagination at the bottom of the page. It wasn't working for a few days, but it appears to be fixed now.
Posted by Mark on November 11, 2009 at 08:13 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Upgrades
Thanks to a timely observation by Steven, I found out that this site has been hacked. It appears to be spammers who have exploited a vulnerability in my forum software to inject HTML onto various pages. I have since upgraded my forum software with the necessary patches and while I'm at it, I figure I might as well upgrade Movable Type as well (the new release actually has at least one new feature I want to take advantage of).

All of which is to say that the blog might be acting a little funny tonight, so if you have some trouble commenting or the page looks all banged up, it's probably because I'm working on it. See you on the other side.

Update: Upgrade is complete. No problems encountered. Yet. I'm going to fiddle around with pagination and maybe some comment system stuff if I have time. Also, I removed Steven's comment and my response from the previous entry, since they didn't really fit with the whole slasher movie topic of the post. Thanks again to Steven for finding the issue and taking the time to alert me.

Again Update: So you know how at the bottom of the page, I have a link to read "Older Posts" which will take you to the next 8 posts after the ones on the homepage? Up until now, I had to use multiple index templates with hard-coded navigation between the index templates. This sorta approximated the functionality that's common on, er, most other blogs at this point (I could have converted to dynamic publishing, but not without massively changing the linking structure of the site). This is dreadfully inefficient and it doesn't scale very well - it only went for two extra pages. Anyway, MT 4.3 has support for pagination via built-in search functionality, so now you can just keep reading (apparently, there are a few hundred pages to read through). The resulting pages could use some work, but it's probably fine for now.
Posted by Mark on August 04, 2009 at 08:49 PM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, June 07, 2009

A Decade of Kaedrin
It's hard to believe, but it has been ten years since I started this website. The exact date is a bit hard to pinpoint, as the site was launched on my student account at Villanova, which existed and was accessible on the web as far back as 1997. However, as near as I can tell, the site now known as Kaedrin began in earnest on May 31, 1999 at approximately 8 pm. That's when I wrote and published the first entry in The Rebel Fire Alarms, an interactive story written in tandem with my regular visitors. I called these efforts Tandem Stories, and it was my primary reason for creating the website. Other content was being published as well - mostly book, movie, and music reviews - but the primary focus was the tandem stories, because I wanted to do something different on an internet that was filled with boring, uninspired, static content homepages that were almost never updated. At the time, the only form of interaction you were likely to see on a given website was a forum of some kind, so I thought the tandem stories were something of a differentiator for my site, and it was, though I never really knew how many different people visited the site. As time went on, interactivity on the web, even of the interactive story variety, became more common, so that feature became less and less unique...

I did, however, have a regular core of visitors, most of whom knew me from the now defunct 4degreez message boards (which has since morphed into 4th Kingdom, which is still a vibrant community site). To my everlasting surprise and gratitude, several of these folks are still regular visitors and while most of what I do here is for my own benefit, I have to admit that I never would have gotten this far without them. So a big thank you to those who are still with me!

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Below is a rough timeline of my website, starting with my irrelevant student account homepage (which was basically a default page with some personal details filled in), moving on to the first incarnation of Kaedrin, and progressing through several redesigns and technologies until you got the site you're looking at now (be forewarned, this gets to be pretty long, though it's worth noting that the site looked pretty much like it does today way back in 2001, so the bulk of redesigning happened in the 1999-2001 timeframe)...
  • 1997-1999: As I started to take computer programming courses in college, I gained access to a student account on the university website. By default, all student accounts came with a bare-bones homepage which we were encouraged to personalize. I never really did much with it, though I thought it was funny to see some of the courses I was taking back in the day: MAT 1050 - Who cares about math, and HIS 3140 - The History of the spork. Also of note, the fact that we referred to it as "electronic mail address" and that google was not on my radar yet... Sometime during this timeframe I started considering a more comprehensive "homepage" and made a few stabs that never really got beyond the photoshop stage (thankfully for you!). Among these ill-fated designes included the uber-nerdy logic gate design shown below (click for larger, more complete version):

    Old, bad, nerdy design

    I'm not really embarrassed so much at the logic gate aspect of the design (which I thought was mildly clever at the time) as the font choice. Gah. Anyway, it was during this timeframe that the first designs for a site called Kaedrin started. The first drafts of the now iconic (well, to me) Kaedrin logo were created during this timeframe. They were not used, but every logo since then has used the same Viner Hand ITC font, though these days the logo isn't quite as prominent as it once was (as you'll see below).
  • May 1999 - Kaedrin v1.0: Again, I've had difficulty pinpointing the exact date when I launched Kaedrin in earnest, but judging from the timestamp of the first entry in The Rebel Fire Alarms, I gather that the site had been fully launched in May of 1999 (just as I was finishing up the semester and had some free time on my hands). Thanks to my participation on 4degreez.com (which may have been known as the T.A.S. Boards at the time, I don't remember exactly), I immediately had a built-in audience of like 5 people, which was pretty cool at the time. That summer was filled with updates and content (this was before blogs, so updates came in the form of reviews for books, movies, and music amongst other stuff that was popular on the web at the time, like sound clips and funny pictures, etc...). The layout initially featured mostly red text on a black background, but I found that to be a bit hard on the eyes, so in August I tried to soften the colors a bit (though even the new color scheme was pretty tough on the eyes). I can't seem to find an example of the full red on black, but here's the tweaked version (Click the image to see the full HTML page).

    Kaedrin: Version 1.0

    For the full effect, you have to click through to the HTML page and mouse over the left-navigation. Back in the day, CSS support was minimal, so to do those rollovers I had to write a custom javascript. I don't think any of the links off the page will work, but it's worth viewing just for the fun of it. Also worth noting: the copyright logo animated gif thingy and the fact that I had a guestbook (which was all the rage back in the day). Finally, if you have a high resolution monitor today, it's difficult to notice, but at 800x600 the Kaedrin logo is enormous!
  • May 2000 - Kaedrin v2.0: After graduating college and initiating a job search, I decided that the old homepage design wasn't very professional looking. During the course of my Senior year, I had spent time learning and thinking about usability and accessibility, and my site at the time was not especially great in those respects (i.e. I figured out for certain that dark red and blue text on a black background was a bad thing). Also, being stuck with a modum connection (after the school's snappy T3 lines) made me more acutely aware of page loading speeds (and the old page was rather image heavy). So I came up with a much cleaner and simpler design (Click the image to see the full HTML page).

    Kaedrin: Version 2.0

    This was certainly an improvement and when I eventually did find a job, my boss mentioned that she liked my site, so mission accomplished, I guess. Unfortunately, a "much cleaner and simpler design" also meant a more boring design, so it wasn't long before I started fiddling around with the layout again. This was a little vexing because I was maintaining all of the pages on the site by hand, and converting to the new layout was a monumental pain in the ass. As such, many of the design tweaks made during this (rather short) era were inconsistent throughout the site.
  • July 2000 - Kaedrin Weblog launched: The summer of 2000 is also when I discovered weblogs (the yellow-heavy designs of dack and kottke were my first exposure to the world of weblogs) and the relatively new Blogger. I remember being amazed at the fully featured blogging software that these crazy Pyra people were giving away for free! It's easy enough to pinpoint my first blog entry, but to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure what the design of the blog was like. It was probably something along the lines of the v2 design, but I'm also virtually positive that the v3.0 design was pioneered on the blog, due to the fact that Blogger was something of a light CMS in that I could tweak the design for all blog pages rather easily. I do vaguely remember having a lot of issues with my free web-hosing company (at the time, I believe it was someone called "redrival"), and in particular their ftp sucked. I think there was a time when I would write an entry on Blogger, publish it to one free host, then transfer the code over to the new host. This is perhaps part of why the initial months of the blog were somewhat sparse in terms of entries, but things got going pretty well in September 2000 and I posted a record-high 29 posts in December 2000.
  • November 2000 - Kaedrin v3.0: Due to the blandness of the the v2.0 site and the fact that Blogger provided easily updatable templates, I came up with a different design. It was still clean and simple and ultimately it didn't last too long because it was still pretty boring. In fact, I'm pretty sure I never got around to updating the entire site. Just the homepage and the blog got this new design. (Click the image to see the full HTML page).

    Kaedrin: Version 3.0

    Ultimately not that much different than v2.0 (I suppose you could consider it more of a v2.5 than a new version, but then it's probably different enough). It's still got the big honkin Kaedrin logo, but for some reason I liked this better.. and there's also the first appearance of the "You are here" bar at the top of the page. While I liked this design better than v2.0, I wasn't very happy with it and almost immediately started working on something new. I was also getting pretty well fed up with hand coding all these pages for what amounted to minor layout tweaks. One thing that helped in that respect was Blogger, which worked like a CMS-lite, allowing quick and easy layout changes with the click of a mouse. Here is the first design for the blog that I could find. (Click the image to see the full HTML page).

    Kaedrin Weblog

    Interestingly, it seems that I decided to forgo the Kaedrin logo in favor of a little HTM text thingy. Also, I had completely forgotten about the blog's original subtitle, which could use some explaining. Back in the 1990s it was popular to use "handles" instead of your real name. When I first started posting to message boards and the like, I absent-mindedly chose the moniker "tallman" because I was a big fan of a certain cheesy 1970s horror movie that featured a character who went by that name. Since a lot of popular blogs at the time had playful titles like Boing Boing and the like, I went with "The Royal Kingdom of Tallmania". I have no idea what possessed me to do that, and it wasn't long before the subtitle was dropped in favor of just "Kaedrin Weblog".
  • January 2001 - Kaedrin.com and v4.0: After dealing with the hassle of free hosting companies, I finally realized that I had a steady income and could probably afford a professional hosting service and a real domain, so I bought kaedrin.com and started work on a new design. Fed up with manually coding redesigns, I devised a kludgey XSLT solution that allowed me to completely separate content from design. So I put all my content into XML files and coded the new design into some XSL stylesheets. This design may look somewhat familiar (Click the image to see the full HTML page):

    Kaedrin Version 4.0

    Being obsessed with download speeds and page rendering, I devised an interesting layout for the blog. Instead of using the typical single-table design, I put the blog navigation at the top (instead of to the left or right) and I put each entry in it's own table. The idea was that browsers render content as it's downloaded, and if you have a large table with a lot of content, it could take a while to load. So having a series of smaller tables on the page, while increasing the size, also make the page seem to load quicker. All in all, I rather liked the look of this layout, though I don't think it's something I'll be returning to at any point (Click the image to see the full HTML page):

    Kaedrin Weblog

    While I like what I was able to do with that navigation at the top, I think there were ultimately more things that needed to go into the navigation and that space just couldn't fit it. I broke down and put it all in a big table in later designs (see below).
  • July 2002 - Movable Type: After a couple of years, I had finally gotten fed up with Blogger's centralized system. Blogger was growing faster than they could keep up with, and so the service was experiencing frequent downtime and even when you could access it, it was often mind-numbingly slow. Around this time, a few other solutions were becoming available, one of which was Movable Type (I started with version 2.x - also, it's worth mentioning that Wordpress was not available yet). This solution increased functionality (most notably bringing comments into the fold) and provided a much stabler system for blogging. The design changed to take advantage of some of this stuff and to make my blog more consistent with certain blogging standards. This one should look really familiar (Click the image to see the full HTML page):

    Kaedrin Weblog - Powered by Movable Type

    That's basically the same design as today, except for the date and some of the junk in the right navigation.
  • And from there it was a series of tiny, incremental improvements, upgrades, and design tweaks. It's funny, I didn't realize until now just how little the site has changed since 2002. Also funny: the fact that I had finally devised a way to make redesigns a lot easier (i.e. my xslt solution) and basically stopped redesigning. Then again, it came in really handy when I wanted to do some little things. For instance, the original v4.0 design didn't have the same borders around the main content area that I use today (it did have a small border at the top of the area, but it was barely noticeable and it was coded using spacers - yuck). I suppose the grand majority of the work that I've done has been behind the scenes: upgrading software, switching databases, fighting spam, and did I mention upgrades? In 2004, the main homepage was updated to account for the fact that the grand majority of the updates on the site were coming from the blog, and the design has remained largely unchanged since then. Around the same time, I tried to make sure the blog and homepage were valid HTML 4.01 (this is perhaps not the case for every page on the blog, as I'm sure I missed an & somehwere and of course, embedding video never validates, but otherwise, it should be pretty good).
  • Of course, the big visible thing that I was doing all throughout was blogging. When I started out, technology made it somewhat difficult to update the blog. Eventually I got Blogger working with my host at the time and enjoyed 3 months or so of somewhat prolific blogging. Of course, at the time, I was posting mostly just links and minor commentary, and this eventually trailed off because others were much better at that than I was. December 2000 is still my most prolific month when it comes to the number of posts (29 posts that month), but again, those were mostly just links and assorted short comments. From there, things trailed off for a couple of years until May 2003, when I established my weekly posting schedule. This made the blog a bit more consistent, and gradually, I started to find more and more visitors. Not a lot, mind you. Even today, it's doubtful that I have more than a few dozen semi-regular visitors (if that many). Actually, if you're reading this, you probably know most of the recent history of the blog, which basically amounts to at least 2 posts a week.
Whew, I didn't realize that trip down memory lane would take quite so long, but it was interesting to revisit just how tumultuous the design was in the early years and how it has calmed down considerably since then... Hopefully things will continue to improve around here though, so what kinds of things can you expect in the near future? I have a few ideas:
  • CSS Layout: The site currently uses a table based layout, primarily because it was designed and coded in 2001 and browser support of CSS was pretty bad back then, so CSS layouts weren't really an option. In 2007 (has it really been that long), I put together a mockup of the site using CSS layout, but never got around to actually implementing it. There were a few things about the layout that were bugging me and I never found the time to fix them. Someday, I'll dust off my mockups, finalize them, and launch them to the world. Having a CSS layout would also allow me to optimize for other media like cell phone browsers, print (my goal is to make it easier to read Kaedrin on the can), the Wii browser, etc... None of those things is a particularly burning need, which is probably why I've put this off so long...
  • Weblog Post Designs: I've never really been too happy with the way each post is laid out. For one thing, I feel like I've always given too much prominence to the date - which is something I could probably just remove. Also, the post title should perhaps be a bit larger (and be linked to the permalink).
  • Homepage: The homepage has largely become irrelevant and should probably just redirect to the weblog, as that's where 99% of the content is these days. Again, this doesn't seem to be a burning need, so I haven't spent much time looking into that, but it would be pretty easy to accomplish.
  • Comments: The comments functionality is a bit of a mess and could use some work.
  • Post Content: I feel like I've been in a bit of a rut lately, mostly relying on various crutches like movie reviews, etc... and not writing as much about things that really interest me. Not that movies or video games don't interest me, but I used to write more posts about technology and culture, which is something I'd like to get back into. The issue is that those posts are a lot harder to write, which I think is part of why I've been avoiding them...
So there you have it. Ten years of Kaedrin. Hopefully, it will last another ten years, though perhaps it will be in a completely different format by then... If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment...
Posted by Mark on June 07, 2009 at 09:38 AM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Goodbye, Trackbacks
So while I am able to write a post now, the problem of the mysterious core dumps is still apparently not solved. I logged into my account last night to find that I had a nice 2 gb of core dumps in my movable type directory. These files must have accumulated during the past few weeks, and it's obvious that my original posting problem wasn't the only malfunction that was creating core dumps. In any case, I checked the system again tonight and found about 600 mb of files in my account. Great. At least that narrows it down a little, as I haven't logged in to MT since last night. So if it's not something I'm doing in MT, it's got to be something that is accessible to everyone, like comments or trackbacks. After some halfassed troubleshooting, I was able to cause a core dump by sending a legitimate trackback to my site. Somehow I doubt that's the only thing causing a problem, but clearly, it needs to go.

Trackbacks were a nice idea, but in reality, they've gone down as something of a debacle. The general concept is to provide a way for one blogger to notify another blogger when they've linked to their blog. So I write a post that links to another blog, and I can "ping" that blog to let the author of that blog know that I've linked to them. In addition, a link back to my post appears on their post. Sounds nice, right? And it is... when it works. The problem is that the system is completely open, so the spammers had a field day. And the trackback management functionality (including anti-spam measures) has always lagged behind comment functionality, so there always seemed to be problems. In other words, trackbacks basically became useless, and a maintenance nightmare. Also, the implementations of the trackback protocol on different blogging engines tended to be a bit strange (Wordpress blogs can never seem to ping my blog successfully.)

The general concept still exists in other forms. Aggregators like Technorati are partially driven by Pings. They deal with spam too (among other issues), but again, the concept remains valid. Six Apart and others are attempting to rework the concept, at which point it might prove useful again.

Alas, it will not exist on this blog anymore. Of course it's not a big loss. During the 8 year tenure of this blog, I've received exactly 11 legitimate trackbacks. I have no idea how many spam trackbacks I've received, but it's somewhere around way too fucking many.

All of which is to say that I'm mucking around with my blog's templates, so things might appear wonky for a bit. If you're having problems, feel free to email me (or post a comment, as that seems to work fine).

Update: Author comments. It's funny, I really should have removed trackbacks a long time ago. I guess I'm just lazy. Let's just call it blog template inertia. Oh, and there was also at least 2 occasions where I thought to myself, I should remove trackbacks! They're useless!, at which point I would receive a few trackbacks in the next couple days. But the last one was well over a year, and the core dumps provided a convenient excuse. Incidentally, only 160 mb of core dumps in the past day since I removed trackbacks. Hurm.
Posted by Mark on September 11, 2008 at 09:10 PM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Upgrading Movable Type
Something has gone mildy wrong with my Movable Type installation. For the past few weeks, I've apparently been causing MT to do core dumps fairly regularly, to the point where I had built up around 2 gigs of these error files on my server space. I've been composing tonight's regularly scheduled update, but I got to a point where I can't seem to save my changes anymore. I keep getting Internal Server Errors. I noticed a new version of MT is available, so I figured it's about time for an upgrade. See you on the other side.

Update: Upgrade is complete. I hope. I suppose I'll find out soon if there are any unexpected consequences (there often are).

Again Update: As of yet, the upgrade doesn't seem to have broken anything, but if you run into any issues, feel free to email me (or post a comment, as that seems to work fine).

Incidentally, the upgrade didn't seem to fix the problem I was having with the Neal Stephenson post (which I did eventually get working). Once I looked at the core dump files, I noticed something odd - there was a bunch of HTML in the file, and it was all code from Amazon's pages. It turns out that MT was choking on my post because I had linked each Stephenson novel to Amazon. Once I removed those links, all was well in MT-land. This, of course, makes absolutely no sense. The only thing I can think of is that that many Amazon links was setting off some sort of Spam filter (in either MT or my hosting service), but that seems unlikely. Regardless, once I figured out the Amazon problem, I was able to get the post up in relatively short order.

For reference, if you're seeing a lot of core dump files in your MT directory, you might want to check out this thread in the MT community. Apparently this has been an issue for quite some time and it has something to do with MT's memory usage. Or perhaps a couple of other factors. Someone else there had an isssue with links tripping up their hosts' spam filter, so perhaps that's what was causing my problem...
Posted by Mark on August 20, 2008 at 10:56 PM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Sitemeter
Via Steven's post on site tracking, I found out that Sitemeter was tracking rather more than it really should (use of spyware cookies and all that). This is a shame, as I really loved some things about Sitemeter, and none of the alternatives were able to approach the simple and useful reporting Sitemeter provided. I was particularly fond of their Visitor Detail page (note, that's a link to a screenshot, not Sitemeter), which contains a good summary of a visitor, where they came from, where they went on my site, and other standard info (OS, browser, location, etc...). They only tracked the last 100 visitors, but that was plenty good enough for me, and the service served me well for the past 9 years or so.

Still, they had frequent downtimes, and they've done very little to improve the service over the past 9 years, so I've always kept an eye open for alternatives. None of the popular services have ever really satisfied me though. Now comes this news of spyware, which is just a crappy situation, and so I've decided to remove all instances of Sitemeter from my site. This is most frustrating and I'm not happy with the situation. I've removed it from all blog pages as well as my main page. The rest of the site will have to wait a bit while I breath some life into my crappy, antiquated XSLT content management scheme (hopefully this will be completed by this weekend).

I've been playing around with Google Analytics for a bit, but they don't provide the kind of detail that I want for individual visits (though they're great for collecting general stats). I just installed StatCounter, which kinda, sorta has a page similar to the visit detail page from Sitemeter. But we'll have to see how that works out. I've heard good things about Mint, and I've heard that they have a plugin/extension/whatever-they-call-it that approximates Sitemeter's visit detail page. However, Mint actually costs money (imagine that!) and I don't want to pay for something that I'm not even sure will work for me.

Anyone know of another good stat package? Anyone actually use Mint? Again, what I'm really looking for is something that will provide details like this screenshot (perhaps with more details on what pages were actually visited (rather than just entry and exit pages)). [thanks to Robert for the link to details on the spyware cookies]

Update: StatCounter's visit detail page is pretty good, though you have to click through too many pages to get there.
Posted by Mark on May 07, 2008 at 11:38 PM .: link :.


Technorati
According to Technorati, there are 112.8 million weblogs (as we'll see, this is probably a highly dubious number). I'm going to take a wild guess and say that the grand majority of them aren't very active. Even among active ones, I'm betting that most don't have much of a readership. Like this blog! Part of this is that blogs fall into a power law distribution, with a small set of bloggers getting the majority of the traffic. The rest of us are in the long tail, and it can be hard to find each other.

Enter Technorati, a service that seeks to track weblogs in numerous ways. You can go there and search on a subject to see what other blogs are saying about that subject. And if you're a blogger, you can see what other blogs are linking to you. They give each blog an "Authority" score which is based on how many people have linked to you (I think there's more to it than that, but I don't care enough to look into it that much), and then they rank all blogs by authority. To give you an idea of how this works, Kaedrin has an authority of 20. The top 10 blogs on Technorati have an authority of somewhere around 10,000 to 25,000.

Here's the problem: Technorati sucks. It definitely doesn't track all the blogs out there (not that big a deal, such a task is probably pretty tough), but it's definitely sure to pick up every new bottom-feeding spammer blog. In other words, every time I write a new post, it gets linked by two freshly minted spam blogs. Those show up fine. Meanwhile, a real blogger (who is listed on Technorati) links me, and Technorati doesn't pick that up (I find out by looking at my referrers). And the same thing happens when I link to other people. For some reason, Technorati decides some of my posts are not worthy of tracking. For instance, my last post isn't showing up in Technorati.

This happens every once in a while, and I think I've figured out why. It seems to happen when I post out of order. I generally post twice a week, but sometimes I start an entry early. Last week, I started writing my review of GitS:SAC on Tuesday. I hadn't finished by Wednesday, so I wrote and posted another entry while I finished off my review. On Sunday, I finished my review and posted it, but Technorati didn't pick it up (despite repeated pings and other attempts to allow the post to show up). Now, none of this shouldn't matter, but apparently Technorati thinks it does, because this exact situation has happened several times. Maybe it's because Movable Type numbers my posts, and if I post entries out of order, perhaps it confuses Technorati. For example, last week, I posted entry 1421 after I posted entry 1422. If this is why Technorati can't figure out that I posted something on Sunday, it's pretty damn stupid. It can't be that hard to fix this. Technorati claims that they track posts by scraping the page and also by using RSS feeds, but if that's the case, they must be doing something really dumb to get tripped up by postings showing up out of order.

So basically, Technorati doesn't track all the good weblogs, but it keeps up with all the spammers' weblogs. For some reason, it doesn't register a post that was written out of order either. So what's the point? I guess it works ok for bloggers who get lots of links. If you get a lot of links, the signal drowns out the noise of the spammers, and you don't miss the posts that Technorati doesn't pick up because you've got plenty of other links to go through. But for those of us on the long tail, it's nearly useless. It doesn't hurt anything, I suppose, so I'll continue to check every once in a while, but I'm not getting my hopes up. I don't think I've discovered any new blogs through Technorati that I hadn't discovered first from my referrers.
Posted by Mark on May 07, 2008 at 09:16 PM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Monday, February 04, 2008

Delayed
I was travelling this weekend, so the regularly scheduled Sunday post has been delayed until tomorrow (hopefully). Incidentally, the Super Bowl was pretty good... but as an Eagles fan, I was torn. I adopted the Aliens vs. Predator tagline: Patriots vs. Giants, whoever wins, I lose.
Posted by Mark on February 04, 2008 at 02:19 AM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas
A few screenshots for your enjoyment:

Robot Santa
Oh no, Robot Santa! Hide!

Santa Hitman
Hitman Santa? That's just confusing.

Hibiki Claus
Hibiki Claus says Merry Anime Day!
Merry Christmas everyone!
Posted by Mark on December 25, 2007 at 10:38 AM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Spam Free
Going on 4 days now, and I haven't had a single piece of spam reach Movable Type (not even stuff that MT immediately recognizes as spam). This is all due to a plugin called CCode, which I installed on Saturday. It uses javascript to block spam before it even gets submitted. It appears to be working admirably (and I appear to be a dolt for not having installed it for the couple of years it's been available) and I love that I don't have to inconvenience anyone by forcing them to enter some extra captcha code or something. I suppose requiring javascript to be enabled could be a minor inconvenience to some people, but I'm guessing those people to be in the extreme minority. If you do have issues commenting, please email me at tallman_at_kaedrin.com.
Posted by Mark on December 19, 2007 at 09:38 PM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Maintenance
I'm trying to diagnose a problem with my rebuild process. For some reason, the individual archive entry rebuild process isn't working. I'm able to create a new entry fine, and I'm able to delete comments from entries fine, so it's clear that Movable Type is able to build an individual entry archive file just fine. I have no idea why the rebuild process is failing though. I keep getting this error:
An error occurred
Can't call method "created_on" on an undefined value at lib/MT/Template/ContextHandlers.pm line 3764.
Fun stuff, I tells ya. Hopefully, I'll figure something out, but in the mean time, you may see some strange stuff on the individual entry pages (particularly with respect to the comments, as that seems to be where the problem is localized.)

Update: Very little progress made. The comments are definitely what's causing the problem. When I remove the code that generates the list of comments, the individual entry archives rebuild fine. When I try to add it back in, bit by bit, I start getting http 500 errors or the original error I was getting above. Somehow, the most recent 30 entries or so have had their comments restored. Beyond that, there's a lot of older entries that have comments, but those comments aren't being displayed because I can't rebuild them without manually rebuilding each entry individually. So if you're on an old entry and you see "Testing something" where the comments would normally be, don't worry. The comments are still in the system, but I can't seem to publish them...

Update 12.15.07: All individual archive pages should be properly displaying comments as of Thursday afternoon. Big thanks to Chad Everett for his help in diagnosing the problem (see comments of this entry for more details). Today, I'll be adding the CCode plugin to help deal with the spam issue. For the most part, I get around 20-30 spams a day that actually make it through the system and on the site. Every once in a while, a spammer will go nuts and submit a couple hundred on one day. So the weekly grind of having to clean up spam has finally motivated me to do something about it. CCode sounds rather clever. It basically adds a hidden field to the comment form, and populates it with javascript. The whole process is obfuscated, but not impossible to break. I kinda think of it as the pseudo-catpcha that Shamus uses (or the one Aziz uses), except it doesn't require the commenter to enter anything. The only catch is that you need to have javascript enabled in order to submit a comment. All of which assumes that this plugin will work well. I'm installing this plugin now, so if you have any issues, feel free to drop me an email (tallman_at_kaedrin.com).
Posted by Mark on December 12, 2007 at 09:30 PM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Quick Note: Upgrades
Due to some recent unpleasantness, I'm upgrading several software packages used on the site. Most notably, the software that runs the Forum and Movable Type (which powers this here blog). So if you notice anything out of the ordinary, don't worry. It's probably part of the plan.

Update: We apologise for the fault in the website upgrades. Those responsible have been sacked.

Update 2: We apologise again for the fault in the website ugrades. Those responsible for sacking the people who have just been sacked, have been sacked.

Update 3: The directors of the firm hired to continue the website upgrades after the other people had been sacked, wish it to be known that they have just been sacked. The website upgrades have been completed in a entirely different style at great expense and at the last minute.
Posted by Mark on October 31, 2007 at 11:33 PM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Quick Update
Seeing as though I just got home from work, I'm not especially in the blogging frame of mind, except to say that the next two weeks or so are going to be hectic around here, so posting will most likely be light (though I guess you never know. I'm sometimes at mymost inspired when I'm obscenely busy with other things. A cruel irony, that.) Anyway, in lieu of a proper post, here's a funny video about ridiculous comment threads at popular sites/blogs (I bet Shamus can relate to the "First" comments at least, though he does seem to get a lot of good comments as well - this video is probably more for stuff like YouTube comments.):


That's all for now. See you Sunday, with a post that is hopefully a little more substantial than this.
Posted by Mark on September 13, 2007 at 12:12 AM .: link :.


End of This Day's Posts

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