Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Google Street View

The good news is that Google Street view has been launched in New Zealand. The bad news, for me at least, is that the street view for my town of Te Awamutu is just as bad as the satellite view. I've pretty much given up on getting a satellite view of my town in which I can actually see the town but I had high hopes for the street view. It was not to be, in fact the quality of the images is probably the worst I've ever seen on Google Street View. I've yet to look around the rest of the country but I sure hope it's better than the rubbish I've seen so far. What a disappointment.

Anyway, I'll look art incorporating street view at 3DNewZealand.com as soon as I can. I'm a bit tied up until after Christmas but I'll get on it ASAP.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Amazing foot guitarist

Think you're all thumbs on a guitar? Check this video out.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

What's Going On

I went to an online marketing seminar this morning (thanks Peter, it was very good). Social networking was a big topic and I was yet again reminded of how poorly I'm performing in this space. I was also reminded of how much I don't like telling people my website URLs in real life because I'm a wee bit embarrassed by them. Frankly my sites sound better than they look and I'm sure some people are disappointed when they first see them. So I have several problems:

- My sites look they were designed in the 90s, although to be fair, most of them were designed in the 90s. Graphic design is a weak area for me and I'm too cheap to pay competent designers unless I'm absolutely forced to.
- I have too many projects and none of them are getting enough love. It breaks my heart but I'm going to have to let some of them go.
- I'm crap at keeping blogs up to date, replying to email and generally being social. To be honest I hate how social networking is "the thing" now! Life was a lot easier for me when I could make static HTML pages with text and images, that never dated and required minimal human interaction. My whole plan was supposed to be about passive income and I liked my lack of social networking, dammit. BTW the only reason I'm posting this entry is that some people from the seminar are going to look at my blog and I wanted them to find something more recent than August. I guess it's also an apology for the state of my sites :(

Anyway, here's the situation with my main projects right now:
dave.co.nz: My personal website is unlikely to get any attention at all except maybe this blog. As much as I'd love to sort out the rest of the site, for now I'll just call it retro. Please don't go there.
MediaCollege.com: I desperately need to work on this site. There's so much to say about what needs to be done I don't know where to start, so I won't.
MC Media Player: I've been working on a renewed plan with my brother and hopefully he'll be coming on board to help at some stage. More information to come soon.
Paranormal-Encyclopedia.com: I have a writer who provides 1 or 2 articles per week for this site. It's coming together well enough but it will be 12 months or so before it has the number of articles I want. I'll wait until then before re-evaluating the layout and design.
3DNewZealand.com: I don't know what to do with this site. The 3D images are important—3D is going to be big and I definitely want to have my finger in that pie. I just haven't got around to making a decent design yet. As for the maps, that's a long story that I'll get back to another day.
Space-Images.com: New site, on the back-burner with my other space-related projects.
Te Awamutu Online: Long overdue for a major revamp. I'm in discussions with interested parties right now. There should be some action before the end of the year.
Other sites: I have about 20 other websites but they are all pretty small and static. I can't be bothered talking about them.

As you can see there's plenty to do. I've been spending a lot of time over the last few weeks thinking about where all this is going. The seminar this morning and my recent meeting at the Business Development Centre were quite timely—they've given me food for thought. It's still all swirling around my head, hence this rambling blog entry, but I expect it all to come together shortly in a resounding convergence of inspiration and purpose. Then, finally, I will be unstoppable.

One last thing... I was convinced to get on Twitter at the seminar. I've been resisting for months because I just can't see myself doing well at it. I can't even keep my blog updated so how will I cope with micro-blogging? Oh well, we'll see. Maybe if you follow me it'll help my motivation ;)

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

MC Altair v0.8

I've decided to release v0.8 with only one new feature: Better color control. You can now choose a default color scheme and/or colors for individual elements in the player. See the new variables and setup tool for details.

I wanted to get this version out because a few people have been asking for better colors. Now I'm planning to take a bit of time to consolidate and fix some outstanding bugs in the setup tool.

I've got a pretty clear idea of where to go from here, and I think we're on track for a v1.0 release this year. There are some exciting things going on behind the scenes and I'm looking forward to more development with MC Altair.

At the same time I'm obviously still thinking about MC Classic. I have previously indicated that I would get back to work on it later this year, and I haven't changed my mind, but at the same time there have been some developments that could impact this plan. I'll have more to say about MC Classic later.

In the meantime I'd appreciate any feedback from anyone who uses the new color features in MC Altair.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Setup Tool Upgrade

MC Altair v0.7 seems to be going fine. I've seen it on a few websites and it certainly looks a lot better at smaller sizes. I still need to work on how the player adapts to different sizes but at least there's no more distortion in the interface and it always looks tidy.

I've released a new version of the MC Altair setup tool. This doesn't affect the player itself and there are no new features as such, although I have also released a non-essential maintenance upgrade for MC Altair (v0.71).

- The setup tool now correctly shows default values for any player size. Edited values are shown in red.
- Many of the buttons have been moved to the new menu. Most importantly, the "Get Code" button can now be found in "Code > Export to Website".
- There is a new "Make Player" wizard that automatically imports a video file and creates a player with the correct dimensions (assuming the video file includes valid metadata - I don't yet have a workaround if it doesn't).
- I've added some more context-sensitive help.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Google Street View for New Zealand

The rumours appear to have been officially confirmed - Google Street View is coming to New Zealand. This isn't exactly surprising news - the Google car has been spotted around the country by people such as Bevan Rudge (see his great photos). The car is a black Holden Astra, registration plate EFR386.

How will this affect 3DNewZealand.com? Well the Street View is available for the API, which in plain language means we can add it to the website. This is great news and I'll try to implement it as soon as possible. Sadly it does mean that my own panorama project looks doomed for obsolescence - I'm not sure if there's a lot of point trying to fill a gap that will no longer exist. Shame really, I should have moved faster when the idea was new (I published my own version of "Street View" more than six years ago but lacked the resources to pursue it properly).

Anyway, let's just be happy that Street View is coming. I'll let you know when it's available at 3DNewZealand.com.

Monday, 21 July 2008

MC Altair 0.7 preview

Here's a sneek preview of MC Altair v0.7. I'll be making an official announcement very soon but I just wanted to give RSS subscribers a chance to have a look first. It doesn't have any significant new features but it is an important upgrade because it completely changes the way the player is resized. I decided that my previous approach, which I thought was devilishly cunning and original, was actually too counter-intuitive and problematic. I've returned to the traditional approach (used in MC Classic) which uses a consistent internal coordinate system with the top left corner as the (0,0) point.

Anyway, what this means is a much better, more robust way to resize the player. I'm particularly happy that fullscreen mode is now working properly again, and I'm looking forward to making that more configurable.

Because this version required a major re-write I expect a few bugs to fall out of it. If you don't like upgrading or helping out with bug reports, maybe you might like to wait until the next version. Still, it would be great to get some feedback on v0.7 as soon as possible before I make it the official release version.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

MC Altair upgrade, Red5 server

It's been a mad rush but I've managed to get MC Atair v0.6 released (see the announcement and technical details). It's just in time because I'm going to be tied up with family commitments this week, so I apologise if I'm slow responding to any questions about this release.

In a slight change of plan, I'm going to work on MC Altair 0.7 before getting back to MC Classic. Sorry, it had to be done but with any luck it won't actually take too long.

Good news: Brother Scratch has finished setting up Red5 on a brand new server. It sure looks like fun, I've checked out the simple live broadcast and chat applications that come with the server and there are sooo many possibilities. Too many ideas, too much technology, too little time in a day.

Anyway, let me know if you have anything to ask or say, either here or in the forum.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Photos of Spy Satellites

Here's one for the consiracy theorists... photographer Trevor Paglen has taken 189 photos of secret spy satellites which officially don't exist. The photos are on display at at the University of California Berkeley Art Museum (more photos here).

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Paranormal Blog

I've decided the paranormal blog needs to be separated from my personal blog and integrated properly with paranormal-encyclopedia.com. The RSS feed will stay the same but the blog posts will appear as part of the paranormal site rather than blog.dave.co.nz. Hopefully this will be less confusing and a bit more professional.

See the new paranormal blog

Thursday, 19 June 2008

MC Media Player Quick Update

Just a quick note about MC Altair.... I'm working on RMTP support and it's looking good so far. I've got RED5 working on my local network and MC Altair is streaming videos well (although there's still some work to do). Unfortunately our new web server won't be ready for a couple of weeks so it would be really helpful if anyone out there has a streaming server (Flash Media Server or RED5) that I could use for testing. All I need is the URL of a couple of video streams that I can play with the player (e.g. rmtp://yourserver.com/path/videofile). Otherwise I'll just have to wait until our new server is online before I can finalise the streaming code.

I've also added a variable for the buffer length which will please some of you.

I'm not yet sure when I'll release version 0.6. I'd prefer to wait until RMTP support is finished but it's possible the next release will just include a few small features and bug fixes, followed by another release with streaming support. In any case v0.6 shouldn't be more than a few weeks away at most.

After that it will be time to look at MC Classic.

Monday, 16 June 2008

MC Media Player Status Report

Okay, I'm finally getting ready to have another go at the media players. I've got most of the next four weeks allocated to this project so hopefully we'll see some action. Now is the time to let me know of any issues or bugs that aren't already included in the project manager.

Here is the plan:
(1) My brother Richard (AKA Scratch) is investigating the RED5 Flash Server. We're hoping to set this up on a new server within the next few weeks. This will give us a decent platform upon which to develop the players' streaming and interactive capabilities.
(2) Fix the main outstanding bugs and issues with MC Altair.
(3) Tackle the outstanding issues in MC Classic.

The thing I most want to get done is prepare MC Altair for open source. I've been frustrated at not being able to do this yet but I am still motivated.

Space Images Update

I've updated some images, including the Shuttle STS-124 mission, Phoenix Lander (I'll add more there in a few weeks when there's a better selection to choose from) and the ISS wallpapers.

In the news:
NASA Tests Lunar Robots and Spacesuits
NASA Awards Contract for Moon Spacesuit
Ulysses spacecraft mission to end
NASA's GLAST mission launches

Photos are available via the links at the bottom of each press release.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Phoenix Landing

In less than 24 hours from the time I post this blog entry, NASA's Phoenix Lander will attempt to land on Mars. I've posted a forum thread with the details and my opinion of why this is the best type of reality TV going. I strongly recommend tuning in to NASA TV and watching this - it's gripping drama that you don't get to see very often.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Secret British UFO Documents

More than 1,000 pages of previously secret UFO documents have been released by Britain’s National Archives. The files, in PDF format, include documented UFO sightings and investigations from 1978 to 2002. See them all here.

Cases include:
- A man on a fishing trip claims to have taken a tour of an alien spaceship.
- A man tried to set up a meeting between the government and his extraterrestrial acquaintance (called Algar).
- Air traffic controllers watched a UFO land on their airport's runway, then disappear.
- Three police officers in Woking saw a white light descending on the Horsell area.

Nick Pope, investigator of UFO sightings at the Ministry of Defence, said: "Most of the UFO sightings here are probably misidentifications of aircraft lights and meteors, but some are more difficult to explain, and include UFOs seen by police officers and pilots, and cases where UFOs have been tracked on radar."

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

QuickBird Satellite Images

Some of you will have seen a recent news story about New Zealand government agencies signing a deal to acquire satellite images from the US DigitalGlobe QuickBird satellite. While this is great for those agencies, I'm sorry to say it won't have any real impact on the satellite photos we provide at 3DNewZealand.com. Our images are all courtesy of Google Maps, and the QuickBird deal does not involve Google.

Of course there may be some side-effects down the track, for example, if people can get better images elsewhere then Google might feel some pressure to react. I hope so - the more competition in this area the better.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Reducing Maintenance Tasks

Routine maintenance tasks are a necessary burden for all of us in the webmaster game. When developing new projects, it's worth planning ahead to reduce the amount of time these tasks will take. In this post I'll look at installing new scripts vs choosing third-party solutions (for any type of dynamic content on your website).

If you read the "Which blog software should I use?" threads on any webmaster forum, you'll see that most people are recommending Wordpress. That's because it's probably the best blog software. You'll notice that I use Blogger.com instead - an inferior solution it would seem. However there's a good reason.

As each of my projects has become more successful I've realised that those little routine maintenance tasks begin adding up. For example, every new script I install on a website needs to be updated periodically. For the first few years this wasn't much of a hassle, but now that I have dozens of scripts, updating them is becoming a regular annoyance. That's why I went with Blogger.com - because I'll never have to worry about security patches, plugins or anything else.

If you're ever considering installing a new script, make sure you think about how much time will be involved keeping it updated. You can usually get a good idea by viewing the script's changelog (version history). Check out the support forum (if there is one available) and see how much drama other people have encountered in previous updates. And of course, you might like to consider using a solution hosted by a third party (like Blogger.com) to eliminate those little maintenace tasks altogether. IMO it's often worth some sacrifice in features to have a no-hassle solution.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

New Project Management Tools

I've recently finished upgrading the forum software at MediaCollege.com, and as part of the process I've reorganized and expanded the MC Media Player support forums. There are now separate forums for each version of the player, but more importantly I've added a project management tool to the forum. I hope this will enable me to keep track of bugs and feature requests much more efficiently.

I've added a number of known issues to the project manager but I'm nowhere near finished. My plan is to spend a week working on the media player during May, during which I'll take care of a number of outstanding tasks, including adding the remaining issues. I have a further three weeks allocated to the player in June, so unless anything changes I should be able to get back to development work then.

At least that's the plan, but most of you know that my plans are subject to change. If you'd like to keep tabs on me, I'm trying out a new calendar to organise the time I allocate to my website projects. You can see the calendar at www.dave.co.nz/calendar.html.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Adsense Link Units

If you use Adsense, make sure you check out the new report type that was released today. You can now view link units separately and get a lot more information. Previously you had to create channels to track link units, which was a pain - this new report is much easier and better. You can find it under "Choose Units" in the Advanced Reports tab.

If you don't use link units, now is the time to try. The thing I've found is that their value varies a lot depending on the site content - some of my link units earn a $15 ePM, while others fail dismally at around $0.03. It's especially important to experiment and tweak link unit settings for maximum effect. In some sites they just don't work and traditional ads are better. In other cases they can be worth many times what you'd get from traditional ads.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

UK Fraudulent Mediums Act

In the UK, 'genuine' mediums have been protected since 1951 by the Fraudulent Mediums Act. Only mediums or psychics who have been proven to be frauds could be convicted, which is difficult, and only 10 have been convicted in the past 20 years.

Next month the old act is set to be replaced by the new Consumer Protection Regulations. Under the new law psychics are to be held accountable for the quality of their service just like any other industry. This is assuming they charge for their services, which most obviously do.

Psychics aren't happy. They say it will necessitate various disclaimers about what they offer, and leaves them open to malicious lawsuits by skeptics. I imagine skeptics are much more happy about the situation.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

The Skeptologists

The Skeptologists is a new reality TV show that is currently in production. At this stage it's only a pilot episode being made on spec but I'd be surprised if it wasn't picked up. The show takes a decidedly skeptical stance so it might struggle to find a primetime slot (which are notoriously biased toward more credulous shows). Still, if it's done well I think this could be another Mythbusters.

Hosted by Brian Dunning, the impressive cast is made up of Phil Plait (badastronomy.com), Michael Shermer (The Skeptic Society), Yau-Man Chan (Chief Technology Officer at UC Berkeley College of Chemistry and contestant on Survivor: Fiji), Kirsten Sanford (neurophysiologist and host of This Week in Science), Mark Edward (mentalist), and Steven Novella (medical doctor and host of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe).

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Yahoo! AMP! ad management system

Today Yahoo ramped up the publicity surrounding its new AMP advertising management platform. The press release is everywhere and the video can be seen at advertising.yahoo.com/amp. From the press release: "AMP! from Yahoo! aims to transform the online advertising industry by dramatically simplifying processes for advertisers, agencies, ad networks and publishers".

First, a word of warning: I found the video stream incredibly slow and frustrating. There's no way to pause and buffer the stream either - when you pause it just stops. Poor effort Yahoo!

Anyway, the product itself looks like it might be attractive to large publishers and advertisers. Small publishers can probably ignore this development for now. To be honest, even most large publishers aren't going to be reviewing their strategy or jumping ship from Google based on what I've seen so far. The product is quite specific, applying only to those who deal with site-targeted advertising.

In other words, if a solution like Google Adsense/Adwords already works for you, AMP probably won't offer anything new. AMP will help you target large numbers of specific websites easily, but if you are happy to let the algorithms do the work for you, you're probably better off sticking with a fully automated system.

I notice that Yahoo is making quite a fuss about this service before it's ready. Could they be feeling the heat from Google's ad management service?

Don't get me wrong here - I'm not writing off Yahoo's option. My advice would be to investigate if you are a large operator who likes full control over ad placement, but if you're with another company, don't go out of your way to switch just yet. Yahoo has been behind the 8-ball for a while now, and with all the current posturing over takeover bids, I'd be reluctant to jump in bed with them right now.

BTW Yahoo, you have enough exclamation marks already. Don't be greedy.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Update: Paranormal-Encyclopedia.com

I've just finished a fairly major revamp of the homepage at www.paranormal-encyclopedia.com. I've changed the navigation structure slightly so you can now browse either by category or alphabetical index.

I've finished tidying up all the substandard articles that were commissioned last year. They are at least readable now but they still need a lot more work before they can be considered "encyclopedia quality".

I mentioned previously that I had commissioned a new researcher/writer. She's doing a great job providing the initial articles for the main sections of the website. Her articles are well-researched and balanced, and I'm really looking forward to building the site with more of them.

The site still has a lot of gaping holes but I do believe it's looking good. The structure is falling into place and I can see exactly where it needs to go from here. I'm optimistic that it will be ready for wider promotion some time in the second half of this year.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

UFO over Canterbury

I thought I'd include this story about a UFO over Canterbury (New Zealand) mainly because it's close to home and it's such a great photo. There doesn't seem to be much genuine UFO appeal - according to Alan Gilmore of Mount John Observatory, it appears at first glance to be a plane. That's how I see it too - maybe a vapour trail lit by the setting sun. Still, awesome photo.

Original story at stuff.co.nz/4461869a6530.html

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Changing URLs for Blogs and Feeds

I'm having a nightmare trying to sort out my blogs and RSS feeds. Now that I've been using blogger for a while I can see that I've done a few things wrong. My biggest mistake was not setting up permanent URLs for the RSS feeds from the outset. Now that I've figured out how to do all that and brought feedburner.com into the mix, I've realised I need to change the URLs of the blogs and RSS feeds.

My main blog has moved to http://blog.dave.co.nz and all the new URLs are shown there. I'm sorry for the hassle but I'll have to ask all subscribers to go there and re-subscribe to the appropriate topic feed(s). These URLs should be permanent now so I hope I don't have to go through this again.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

MC Media Player's RSS URL has changed

The URL for the MC Media Player RSS feed has changed. I'm moving over to feedburner.com and I've updated the feed to:

http://feeds.mcmediaplayer.com/mcmp

Please update your subscription to the new address and accept my apologies for the hassle. The new URL should be permanent so I don't think I'll ever have to ask you to change again.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Xcor Aerospace Update

California company Xcor Aerospace plans to enter the space tourism industry with a two-seat rocket ship capable of suborbital flights. Named Lynx, the vehicle is about the size of a small private plane and is expected to begin flying in 2010.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Italian Cashier Hypnotized

Quirky news story of the week is the case of the Italian supermarket checkout operator who was hypnotized by a cunning criminal into handing over a wad of cash. Apparently she didn't realise what had happened until her till didn't balance at the end of the shift.

Interestingly I haven't see any news stories tackle the question of whether this is a plausible story. I suspect we'll hear more, but allow me to pre-empt the result with my guess...

First of all, you can't just approach someone and hypnotise them instantly to do your bidding. Many people are immune altogether, and only the most suggestive are likely to be controllable in the reported fashion. The thief would probably want to select and groom the victim before the main event, just to make sure she was going to react as needed.

Hypnotism can't make you do anything that you consider morally wrong. If the girl was genuinely hypnotized, the criminal must have been even more cunning than most people would think. Perhaps he could have suggested that the money was for a worthy cause, or that he had been given permission to take it. However it does smell fishy - the ease of the apparent hypnotism makes me suspicious.

I have no strong gut feeling either way, but if I had to put money on it, I'd bet that the cashier was an accomplice. I wouldn't convict her without hard evidence of course, but I'd certainly be looking at her closely if I was on the investigative team.

I must emphasize this: I do believe that the hypnotism reported in this story is unlikely but certainly possible. "Innocent until proven guilty" and all that. Let's see what happens.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Google Analytics Benchmarking

If you use Google Analytics for your website statistics, you might be interested in the new benchmarking option. If you agree to share your data (anonymously), Google will give you a comparison showing your traffic stats against other similar sites.

The benchmarking service has been collecting data for the last couple of weeks and it went live today. I had a lot of fun seeing my stats against industry standards. However it's pretty much a once-off buzz at the moment. There's not much to look at, and once you've seen how a site fares there's not much point going back to that report again.

Still, Google has a solid record of starting simple and building things into something no one else saw coming. This could be the beginning of a revolutionary way to measure statistics. I'm optimistic.

Categories

Importantly, all sites are divided into three categories: Small, medium and large. Statistics for a site can only be compared against other sites in the same category. The trouble is, you don't know which category your site is in, so how can you tell what you're really being compared to?

I don't have the whole answer (yet) but I've got a reasonable estimate. Because I have a few dozen websites that get various levels of traffic, I've been able to pin down the range of statistics in each category to some extent. It's still quite rough, and the data will change anyway as the service matures, but here's how I see it:

Small: The benchmark for sites in this category is around 5 visits per day. It includes sites that get up to somewhere between 15 and 50 visits per day.

Medium: The benchmark is around 200 visits per day (2100 page views). The range is from around 50 to somewhere between 1000 and 10,000 visits per day.

Large: The benchmark is around 10,000 visits per day. The range is from somewhere between 1000 and 10,000 visits per day upwards.

I currently have one site in the large category (Google thinks I'm large - now there's an aphrodisiac :)). The site is of course mediacollege.com, which is ranking 57% higher than the benchmark for large sites. Woohoo!

Now here's an interesting idea for Google - what about being able to share data between consenting accounts, so for example, I could agree to share data with some of my competitors and we could all measure up against each other. I don't know how many people would buy into it but I'd be a starter for sure. Nothing like a bit of in-your-face competition to get you motivated.

3-D camera with 12,616 lenses

Stanford electronics researchers are developing a camera built around what they call a "multi-aperture image sensor." Pixels are reduced in size and grouped in arrays of 256 pixels. The fascinating thing is how image depth metadata can be stored with the image, allowing photo editors to select objects in the image based on their distance from the camera. Apparently this opens up lots of other new opportunities as well.

Full article at news-service.stanford.edu.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Types of Photography

Here are a few new articles for the "Types of Photography" section at MediaCollege.com:
Astrophotography - Space photography.
Digiscoping - Photography through a telescope or binoculars.
Forensic Photography - Police and legal.
Infrared Photography - Photography in which the recording medium is sensitive to infrared light rather than the normal visible light spectrum.
Travel Photography - This article includes some basic tips on travel photography.

Monday, 17 March 2008

New Space Photos

I've uploaded more photos from STS-123, plus a new section: Astronauts in Action. It's brand new (not many photos yet) but I imagine this section being huge one day. I'm even going to try and build a database of photos of all astronauts that have flown in space. I don't really know if it's practical but it's worth a try. Maybe I'll limit it to "pioneering astronauts" or something like that.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Tip for press releases: Bad news

Here's a quick article for PR writers, or anyone faced with the unenviable task: The best way to announce bad news.

Transferring a Website

Today I became aware that one of our clients had initiated a less-than-perfect domain transfer to a new server. As I type this, their site is unreachable and won't be up and running for a while yet.

If you rely on your site in any way, this wouldn't be a good turn of events. So, I posted a quick article on the best way to transfer a website from one server to another. If I've missed anything please let me know.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Shuttle Night Launch

Some great shots of STS-123 blasting off into the night sky. More photos to come throughout the mission.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Commissioned Articles

I've always liked the idea of commissioning articles but it's hard to make them profitable, especially if you need high-quality copy and you don't like plastering too many ads on the page (meaning less income per article).

I've just found a new source which looks promising and I've purchased an article about the digital camera RAW format for MediaCollege.com. I'm going to keep an eye on the stats and see how it goes, and I'll probably purchase a few more similar articles as well - enough to do some decent testing. If it goes okay this could be a great way to help build the website.

BTW I only ever purchase articles that are 100% unique.

Edit: I bought another few articles:
The end of analog broadcast
What is an IP Network Camera?
Introduction to MS Word

Monday, 3 March 2008

Update: Paranormal-Encyclopedia.com

I'm currently negotiating with a researcher to write articles for www.paranormal-encyclopedia.com. It's looking very promising and it's also giving me some enthusiasm to have another burst with the site. I've started re-writing some of the existing articles and there's a chance the site will be ready for wider publicity within a couple of months.

I'm still keen to hear from anyone who wants to contribute articles though. Let me know if you're interested.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Space-Images.com Update

I've finally uploaded the rest of the images from the Space Shuttle STS-120 and STS-122 missions. I've also started accumulating enough Shuttle images to start organizing them into categories such as launch, landing, etc. It's still early days but I think the site is starting to take shape.

I have to say I'm a bit bummed at how long it's taking me to add new images using the very manual system I've chosen for this site. I made a decision to use plain HTML pages and do all the work on the images by hand, rather than using a gallery script like I did at space-photos.com. My reasoning was that although it would take longer to publish new material, the resulting pages would be more permanent, robust and SEO-friendly. Also, it's quite a hassle staying up to date with PHP scripts. I still think I made the right decision but it's harder work than I anticipated.

Next on the to-do list for this site: More Shuttle and Apollo photos.

By the way, NASA announced this morning that the STS-123 mission is slated for launch on the 11th March.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Horoscope Test

I noticed an ad on the paranormal-phenomena.info site for a free horoscope. The ad claims 100% accuracy and a free test. I filled out the form and I should receive my personal horoscope within two days - I'll tell you how it turns out in the comments for this post.

At the same site you can also sign up for a free weekly horoscope. Sweet, I've been wanting to do a long-term horoscope test so I've signed up and I'll document the results. To be fair I'll give it plenty of time to see how useful it is, perhaps a year. Let's go.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Google Shares Drop

Google shares have dropped around 8 percent after a U.S. industry report showed a decline in a key measure for how Google gets paid by advertisers.

While some investors are alarmed, other commentators are downplaying the slump, citing factors such as:
- Google recently changed the clickable area of Adsense ads, which should mean a temporary drop in publisher income but a better long-term return for advertisers (and therefore publishers).
- comScore had recently revised the way it measures visits to Web sites, which made comparisons to previous trends difficult.
- This isn't a good time of year for tech stocks, and the market isn't doing well overall anyway.

Personally I'm not too concerned. I don't think there's any need for us publishers to panic (my Adsense earnings are actually up at the moment). I'd even consider buying Google stock right now while the price is down.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Get More Relevant Adsense Ads

If you're an Adsense publisher you may find that the ads sometimes aren't relevant to the main content of your page. This can happen, for example, when one part of the page is interpreted by the Adsense bot as being more important than it really is. It's happened to me a few times - I remember including a reference to a particular product as an aside in an article. The Adsense ads were all about that product instead of the article topic.

You can get around this problem using section targeting. Add the appropriate tags to the page content to tell Google which text should be used (or ignored) when targeting ads.

Of course you also need to make sure the page does contain the sort of text that will attract the advertisers you want, but I assume you knew that already :).

Monday, 25 February 2008

Is Religion a Natural Human Behaviour?

I've just noticed an interesting project being undertaken at Oxford University, attractively titled 'Empirical Expansion in Cognitive Science of Religion and Theology'.

The £1.9 million project aims to figure out whether religion is a natural human behaviour, and if so, whether this fact supports or contradicts theological and paranormal propositions.

Sounds like fun. Someone remind me about this in a couple of years - I want to know if anything useful results. More than anything I'm interested in whether they come up with an investigative methodology that would be acceptable to both scientists and religious leaders. I doubt it because, like most paranormal propositions, religion has built-in escape clauses to evade such scrutiny. Still I like to imagine some simple test that would indisputably answer the question "Does God exist or did someone just make Him up?"

Of course no such test is possible but even if it was, people like Brian Tamaki could just say it was the Devil confounding our minds. Religious people think atheists are deluded and vice versa. So shall it always be.

Here's the project details.

Website Update

The website at www.mcmediaplayer.com has been updated to incorporate the new logo. There's still lots of work to do on the site but at least I've got one more job out of the way.

Some of you might be wondering why I'm worrying about things like the logo and site design when there are important jobs waiting to be done on the players themselves (both versions). It's a fair question which I'll pre-emptively answer now.

There's never a good time to stop working on the players, there are always people waiting for new features. For this reason the marketing side of things often gets left behind, which doesn't bother me too much because for me it's more about the quality of the player than how many people use it. Still, I do need lots of users to keep the whole project viable - the project would be in trouble if the player dropped off the public radar.

At the moment I'm in a dicey phase with the website due to the recent URL migration. The search engine rankings for the old pages at mediacollege.com are going to drop now that the player's not there any more, but the new URL doesn't yet have good rankings. For a time, the player is not going to feature in the top 10 Google results for relevant keyphrases. I need to do everything I can to keep the marketing on track and minimize the negative impact. Doing a bit of work on the look of the site should help.

In the past I've noticed up to a 10% increase in "stickability" (people staying at or returning a to website site) when the site has a decent logo. A good-looking, professional logo suggests credibility. I'll be interested to see if the percentage of click-throughs from the MC Media Player home page increases now. I'm hoping for a 1 - 2% increase which might not seem much but every little bit helps.

Still high on my to-do list is the next stage of revamping the site. I'll be trying for better organization and much more documentation. However the very next job is probably to get back to MC Altair and finish it off ready for v1.0. Then there's a few outstanding issues with MC Classic - I'd like to spend a bit of time on them. Most urgent though is my need for sleep and a short break from the project - I'm in danger of MC Burnout :(

MC Classic

I've changed the name of the MC Media Player "720x360 Edition" to MC Classic. This version of the player never really had a proper name because when it first came out it was the only version I had. Now, with MC Altair in the mix, I need a better way to separate and refer to each player.

"Classic" is a bit of a cliché I know, but it's practical and does describe where the player is at in its life cycle. It will probably be a better fit in the future when I finally retire this player in favour of a new version. In the meantime I hope it doesn't make the current player sound outdated. I don't think so.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

MC Media Player Logo

The logo contest has been wrapped up - thanks to all involved. There were over 100 entries with many outstanding efforts. In the end we settled on a fairly simple, safe design that we think reflects the player well. It's also a versatile design - it works well at any size and on any colour.

I'll be updating the website with the new look ASAP.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Does traffic affect search engine rankings?

In my last post I mentioned the conflicting SEO advice that webmaster "Sally" was given. She was told that increasing her website traffic would result in higher search rankings, so she contacted friends and asked them to visit the site once each week. I told her this would not work, hence the conflict. Naturally I think I'm right and here's why...

  • Search engines don't have access to Sally's traffic statistics. That could be the end of the argument but let's continue anyway...
  • Search engines could theoretically use tracking tools (e.g. Alexa Toolbar) to gauge traffic but this is hopelessly inaccurate. It would hurt SERP quality more than it would help.
  • You could argue that higher traffic creates flow-on effects that lead to higher rankings; for example, a corresponding increase in new backlinks from visitors who like the site. This can be true when the traffic is genuine but it won't work with artificial methods such as the one Sally is attempting.
  • High traffic is not necessarily an indicator of quality. Search engines know this.
  • Search engines avoid having things in their algorithms (rules & calculations) that can be manipulated. Traffic is very easy to fake and therefore would make it easy to manipulate SERPs. Not going to happen.

Don't take my word for it. Like I said in the previous post, this stuff is debatable so you should look around for other opinions. I thought I'd find a thread or two to get you started and the first one I found was this wonderfully concise discussion so I'll leave it at that. Okay, it doesn't offer much information but the guy answering the question (stymiee) knows the industry well.

BTW, notice how my arguments above involve seeing things from the search engines' point of view and imagining how search engines would want things to work. This is an important point that I'll come back to in another post.

Today's tip: There aren't many (if any) sneaky tricks or magic solutions that increase your SERP ranking. Google is too clever to be manipulated by obvious rigging tactics. If it sounds easy, there's a fair chance it's a waste of time (or even harmful - more on that later). Research!

Conflicting SEO Advice

Tonight I received an email from a website owner, who I'll call Sally, asking what to do when faced with conflicting SEO (search engine optimization) advice. Sadly this happens a lot in the SEO world.

SEO is based on a set of loosely-defined rules about what to do and what not to do in order to climb higher up the SERPs (search engine result pages). Do all the good things, avoid the bad things and it should work.

The problem is that no-one knows exactly how all the search engines perform their calculations so there is some uncertainty about how valid certain rules are. Some rules are undisputed (e.g. don't get involved in link farms, don't put 100 h1 tags on your page), but many rules are the subject of ongoing debate (e.g. don't buy text links, don't trade irrelevant links).

The best thing you can do is search webmaster forums for topics covering the advice you've been given. You'll probably need to wade through a lot of annoying arguments and it might take up to half an hour to read enough opinions to form your own. You'll also encounter a lot of jargon that you might not understand but don't worry about it - in most cases there's a reasonably clear majority opinion that you should be able to recognize.

One of the best webmaster forums is sitepoint.com. You could also try our own web design forum.

In my next post I'll look at the conflicting advice Sally received and pronounce my verdict (go there now).

Friday, 22 February 2008

Blowing up a satellite

I was quite surprised (and pleased) at how much media coverage the US satellite shooting received. The video below is a worthwhile analysis by respected commentator Phil Plait (badastronomy.com).

For the first 3 1/2 minutes Phil explains the shooting and gives his overall opinion. At about 5 minutes he discusses the difference between this and the Chinese satellite shooting last year. A recap is given at 8.11.

Circle URL, pt 3

I wasn't going to keep posting about about the circle URL idea but it's such a good case study, I can't help milking it. From an entrepreneur's perspective it's worth a closer look at exactly why I think it can't work.

Firstly I should say that I'm a bit confused about what the auction is selling so I hope I'm not too far off base with my comments. The auction seems to be for the domains, but there's already a service running at gfr56y.com so I guess that's what the product is. Initially I thought the plan would be to sell or use individual URLs for different websites but then I started thinking maybe the owner is expected to keep all 264 domains, so the same website would be found by typing any circle URL. It would certainly work better in the latter case.

It's still a dog though. Here's why...

  • It's unconventional, meaning that it breaks the normal convention people are used to. That can be a good thing in some cases but most of the time it's a handicap. In this case the existing convention is so strong and the new convention is so different, it's going to be a big problem.
  • For a new convention to work "in the wild" it has to reach a critical mass, i.e. it must reach the point where enough people know about it that you don't need to keep explaining it. Since there are less than 300 domains in this package (and possibly only one actual website) that's unlikely to happen. I don't imagine the general public ever knowing what I mean if I say I have a circle URL.
  • The point above would be negated if the website in question was popular enough. For example, if Google launched this website people might adapt and "get it" because it's Google. However people aren't going to make the same effort for an unknown brand. It's a catch-22: The gimmick won't work until the brand reaches critical mass, but you are relying on the gimmick to get there.
  • If I'm right so far, every time you give someone a circle URL you also have to give them instructions on how it works. That's bad in so many ways I don't know where to start. The best example is the auction itself - it takes several sentences just to explain what a circle URL means. Try that in the mass market where people make browsing decisions in a split second. BTW most people don't read help files or instructions.
  • Circle URLs are not easy to remember or use. I still have to think consciously about how to enter the URL. Call me a linear thinker but the circle shape on a keyboard is not at all obvious to me. I watched someone else try it and she didn't really get it either (two people don't make a scientific poll but it's a bad start). If I was doing it every day it might become second nature but that's not going to happen.
  • The URLs don't just look terrible, they look like spammer URLs. Ouch.
  • The idea is that the domain owner owns a "shape" just like Nike owns the swoosh. The problem is that the swoosh is a simple, consistent, easily recognizable logo that competes with other shapes in a known convention. The circle URL is none of those things, it's just confusing.
  • The cost of maintaining all the circle domains needs to be factored in, although if you're spending $750,000 you probably don't care.
  • In summary, this is a question of whether it's easier to remember a traditional (word) URL or a circle URL. I can't accept that even the most difficult word URL is more difficult to remember and use than a circle URL.

You can do a lot of promotion for $750,000. A better business proposal would be to get a standard domain name and promote it well. No gimmicks required.

Despite my feelings about this as a business idea, I congratulate nottiger on having the idea in the first place. It's a fine example of lateral thinking. I would eat my hat with tabasco sauce if the circle URL convention becomes popular, but I'd be willing to bet that nottiger has some genuinely good ideas somewhere in his head. I wish him well.

One last point - this auction does raise the issue of limited domain names. nottiger is onto something there. The market is hanging out for a better way to remember URLs, or indeed a replacement system for URLs altogether. TNBT?

Is Cruel Cool?

Yesterday I posted a very harsh criticism of an auction being run by someone called "nottiger" at sitepoint.com. After I posted it, I looked back and thought "Man, that is rough. Is it really cool to diss someone's idea so brutally, no matter how silly it seems or how much it smells like a scam? What if it turns out that nottiger is a really nice person, but depressed, and this idea was his big attempt at restoring self-esteem? What if he reads my blog and it's the final straw that breaks his back - how would I live with myself if he topped himself over this whole thing?"

Unlikely, but what if? It certainly wouldn't help my own self-esteem much.

Well it turns out nottiger did read my blog and he contacted me this morning to respond. As an aside, he's a Kiwi (like me), or at least I assume so from the content of his message.

Fortunately nottiger doesn't seem depressed and he handled my criticism well. He did stoop to having a dig at my home town but I'll let that go.

Back to the question "Is it okay to be so harsh?". It's not normally my style because I have seen the effect such criticism can have on people.

The situation is quite similar to working in TV production when you're faced with the "personal harm vs public good vs entertainment value" dilemma. Sometimes you decide to cause potential harm to a small group of people in order to benefit the wider community. If you lack ethics (which many TV producers do) you might be comfortable harming people simply to increase entertainment value. Personally I use what I think is a fair balance between public good and personal danger, but I'd never want to hurt someone just for kicks or ratings.

And that's what made me uncomfortable about yesterday's post. Was I doing it for the public good or for ratings? There is certainly a public good aspect - I feel that the product being auctioned is worthless and so falls into the consumer protection category. You could argue that no one is being forced to bid in the auction but consider this:
- It's highly unlikely that nottiger will commit suicide over my blog post but it's such a bad outcome that it's worth talking into account.
- In the same way, it's highly unlikely that a naive person would unwittingly waste $750,000 on a worthless idea, but the outcome is bad enough that it's worth trying to prevent. Just look at Randi.org to see how plentiful suckers are.

In retrospect I could have had the same effect without being so cruel. I'd probably do it differently now but I'll stop short of an apology because the seller's auction was so public, so expensive, and so inviting of a strong response. He's certainly getting a response at the auction and reddit - the poor bugger is getting flayed alive.

If you're reading this nottiger, I meant what I said about calling in for a coffee or beer. I've become good friends with people who I didn't initially get on with. I like your creativity and tenacity. We might be a fiery mix but you never know - we might have some interesting conversations over a lager.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Circle domains

I believe I've just seen the stupidest idea on the internet.

This auction is for a collection of 264 domain names that use letters in a circle on the keyboard. For example, rfcxse.com (forming a circle around the letter d). The seller is convinced that these domains are easier to remember than actual words, which in his opinion makes the whole package of domains worth a choking $750,000 USD.

It's so unbelievably stupid that you have to read the guy's pitch and let it sink in for a while to appreciate how fully stupid it is. The level of stupidity required to buy into this bizarre idea is so outrageously stupid you can't imagine that anyone in the world could be so stupid.

Does this guy seriously think he can make a case for this idea? Apparently so and he's getting upset with people who doubt/mock him.

And yet I notice a few comments on places like reddit.com suggesting that this hilariously inept idea could appeal to some people. In fact I'm reluctant to completely write it off myself, merely because some stupid ideas do hit the spot with stupid people who have money and buy stupid things. Still, it's hard to imagine even Steve Ballmer* parting with 3/4 Million dollars for this tarted up pile of poo.

Seriously, Todays' Tip: Do some objective research before you invest time or money in an unusual idea. Just because it seems logical or cool to you, doesn't mean the same will apply to anyone else. The "circle domain" auction holder seems oblivious to the problems people are having following the "simple" instructions (e.g. where does the circle start? Which direction does it go?). It wouldn't have taken much effort to test his simplicity theory and learn the truth before making a fool of himself.

* Microsoft CEO who wanted to buy Yahoo for $44 Billion.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Web Entrepreneur Blog

I thought I'd start a separate topic called "Web Entrepreneur" to cover all the things related directly to this line of business. This is the topic to follow if you're interested in making money online.

Let's clarify one thing: I make good money from the web (and it's getting better all the time) but I'm no Sergey Brin or Larry Page. Although I fantasize about building a multi-billion dollar online empire, it's more likely that my estate will be worth less than a single billion. For me it's more about building a decent passive income that will give me a great lifestyle and eventually be passed on to my kids. So far it's gone swimmingly — I pulled back from full-time work in 2000 and left my last part-time job in 2007. I doubt whether I'll ever have a real job again.

I'm 41. It took me almost 10 years to build my online income to the point where I could eschew employment, but a lot of that was spent making wasteful and time-consuming mistakes. One thing that helped keep me on the right path was reading other people's stories and benefitting from their experience. By maintaining this blog I hope to give something back and maybe help you decide which things will work for you and which things to avoid.

BTW I hate the term "Web Entrepreneur" because it's such a nasty cliché. Why did I use this term? Well, that could be the subject of an upcoming post. Stay tuned.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Logo Contest

I'm currently running a contest to design a new logo for the MC Media Player. You can see the contest here: 99designs.com/contests/5394

Please feel free to offer your opinion on any of the entries. Of course you can enter as well - the prize money is $250 USD. The contest closes on about the 25th February (depending on your time zone) although it's possible I might close it early if entries dry up.

It's looking very promising and I'm sure we'll be able to select a nice-looking winner.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Te Awamutu Events Calendar

I've been working with the good folks at the Te Awamutui-SITE Centre making plans for where the website is heading. The first new development is already in the testing phase - a new community events calendar.

We've decided to use Google Calendar to provide this service, for several reasons:
(1) It's easier than maintaining our own calendar application.
(2) It's very flexible and robust.
(3) It has some nice features such as allowing users to add Te Awamutu Events to their own Google Calendar.

The i-SITE Centre will now be taking over the running of the calendar. I'm again reminded of how lucky we are to have such a motivated and helpful team at the centre and I'm sure I speak for all our visitors when I say a big thanks to them for taking on this task.

You can see the new calendar at www.teawamutu.co.nz/info/events

If all goes well, the new calendar will completely replace the old one within a month.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Video: Installing Columbus

Columbus has now been attached to the International Space Station. You can see a 28-minute video of the installation EVA (spacewalk) here. Tomorrow Columbus will be opened and astronauts will enter the module from inside the station to begin outfitting.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

What the hell is this?

You may be wondering what this blog is about and whether or not I'm a nutcase. To learn the truth you'll need to give up 120 seconds of your life, so think fast about whether you want it that bad.

I like to do stuff. Mostly I prefer stuff that doesn't involve too much physical exertion but that's not really the point — I like doing anything that makes me happy and/or makes other people happy. Sometimes it does involve running around until I puff, which is fine in small doses, but usually it involves sitting and working the keyboard until I fall asleep.

I also like making money and that is at least part of the point of this blog.

I have a collection of projects that I work on, mostly involving the internet in some way. Since 1997 I've developed a bunch of websites on various topics that I'm interested in. I try to make money from all of them, although some are run as a public service and won't ever be profitable.

Although my projects exist largely to satiate my hunger for cash, in a strange way I also see them as a representation of my greater "life's work". Just about everything I think about, care for, believe in or enjoy criticising is covered in one of my sites somewhere.

But back to the money, I do like making it. Over the years my projects have slowly gathered enough momentum to feed and clothe my family, so in 2007 I quit my last part-time job and dumped most of my business clients. Even the clients that weren't much work were too demanding for the lifestyle I envisaged. My new life devoted entirely to family and fun projects was unfolding before my gleeful eyes. Since then it's continued like a good plan and I'm loving it.

So anyway, this blog serves several purposes:
  1. It's a good way to provide RSS feeds for people interested in my projects. For example, if you use one of my products you might want to be kept informed of upgrades. It's also a good way for me to organise my projects and remind myself what I need to work on.
  2. It's a case-study for the "Internet Publisher" business model. I make good money doing this and I'm happy to share my methodology. I'm also keen to promote "white hat" strategies and help fight the nasty old black-hats.
  3. It's a vehicle for me to ramble and pontificate, much like every other wannabe in the blogosphere.
  4. It's a family blog for those few people who give a toss about my personal life.
  5. It makes me money. Did I mention that I like money and I want more of it?

So there you have it. That's me and my blog. What's your verdict?

Satellite Images for Palmerston North

Last week I drove past Palmerston North and had a look at my old house, or at least where it used to be. Now it's a memory replaced by a new subdivision. To be honest it was quite a shock. With most of the old landmarks gone I couldn't even tell exactly where my house had been.

I wanted to see what had happened so I had a look at the Palmerston North map for clues. I knew the images wouldn't be completely current so I might be able to see an earlier stage of the subdivision development.

The first good news, which is really what I'm reporting here, is that the satellite images for Palmerston North have been updated since last time I checked and they are much better. I don't know when they were updated or how current they are - all I can say is that the images are definitely less than 5 years old but older than the newest part of the James Line subdivision. I had a quick look around the city and it was great. Lots of memories from my time living there. If anyone who still lives there can tell me how old the images are I'd be grateful.

As for my house, it's still there on the Google map - here's the link. The photo seems to have been taken just before the subdivision reached my house, so it's still very different to when I lived there in the middle of a paddock.

I'm rapt that I did this before the images update again. Now I have a permanent record of exactly where my house stood, so when Google's images do eventually update I'll always know exactly where the house was.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Shuttle Mission STS-122

At last the European Space Agency's Columbia module is on the way to the space station. This is the first significant scientific addition to the station in years. It's going to be a great mission and I'll definitely be glued to NASA TV.

I'll be uploading photos and videos throughout the mission.
Photos:
space-images.com/photos/space-flight/shuttle/sts122/index.html Videos:
space-images.com/video/space-flight/shuttle/sts-122.html

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Done

Whew, that was hard work. My shiny new blog is less than 24 hours old and I've posted nine messages. Let's see how long that lasts.

I had to publish all those posts in order to set up the label/subscription system for the different projects. Each post is a quick introduction to the relevant project. Now that it's done you can subscribe to just the topics that interest you and ignore the rest. For example, if you're only here for the MC Media Player updates you don't need to get all the irrelevant posts.

I'm still finding my way around the blogger.com system but it looks like fun.

Space Images & Stuff

People who know me well, know that I have a minor obsession with space. I've never grown up really. I still like to play with toy spacehips and pretend I'm Luke Skywalker.

My website porfolio wouldn't be complete without a space-related site or two, so I made six to be safe. Most of them are devoted to hosting space images and videos: www.space-video.info, www.space-images.info, www.space-photos.com and www.space-images.com. I've also got www.seti.co.nz which is the base for my SETI@home team, and of course the old space area of my personal website. If this looks like domain-hoarding to you, well, I don't have a good defence. I don't need this many space domains but I keep acquiring them like my grandmother keeps acquiring new kitchen gadgets. I just can't stop myself.

At this stage my plan is to work mostly on www.space-images.com. The other sites will serve largely as test sites for the MC Media Player project although I'll obviously try and keep them genuine and useful as well.

There's lots of cool stuff happening in the world of space. As well as using this blog topic to report updates on my space websites, I might try and slip in a few comments on space news and developments as well.

Te Awamutu Online

Te Awamutu is the name of my home town in the Waikato district of New Zealand. Back in 1999, with the help of my brother Richard (AKA Scratch), I started the Te Awamutu Online website.

The real-world reaction was mostly confusion. People couldn't grasp the concept of a website devoted to a town. Many of my friends pulled unusual faces when I tried to explain it.

Fortunately, even back then there were a number of ex-pat Te Awamutu people who wanted to make a connection to home over the internet. We had some encouraging emails from Kiwis all over the world and we persevered. It took a few years but eventually people who do still live in Te Awamutu started to "get it". It's since become very popular, getting over 1000 unique visits per day (there are only around 20,000 residents in the local district).

Sadly, as much as I love this website, it loses a fair bit of money and I can't find any way to make it profitable. Over the past few years I've scaled back my work on the site and tried to find new ways to keep it going with less work. Getting the Courier online was a big breakthough (thanks Grant, Dean and the team). I'm also working with the i-SITE Information Centre and other interested parties to see how we can work on it more efficiently. Whatever happens, I'm very committed to keeping this site active and growing.

Note: I'll use this blog to talk about updates to the Te Awamutu Online website. There are also RSS feeds available for local news stories and forums posts here.

Paranormal Encyclopedia

www.paranormal-encyclopedia.com is a project I started at the beginning of 2007. It's been low on my priority list but I do have high hopes for it (I seem to say that a lot about my projects).

The idea for an encyclopedia-style website evolved from my original paranormal site www.paranormal-phenomena.info. I was never happy with the original site - I wanted a better domain as well as a more organized layout. It was Ange who came up with the encyclopedia theme idea and I was quite embarrassed that I didn't think of it myself, especially because I was about to spend a lot of money acquiring an inferior domain from a squatter. The encyclopedia is a much better approach than what I was doing before.

Most of the stuff that's currently on this site wasn't written by me - I commissioned a researcher to write about 100 articles. Unfortunately the only researcher I could afford was one of those Asian outfits that can't speak the Queen's English. Consequently the quality of the articles varies from poor to unreadable. I am therefore in the market for a good editor who feels up to the challenge of re-writing this mess into something comprehensible.

BTW, my angle with this website is that of a skeptic. It's a shame that few people understand what a skeptic is. Most people think it means a person who doesn't believe stuff. That's not true - skeptics are happy to believe, they just ask for a good reason to believe first.

Anyway, I'm aware that I need to fix this site up and I hope to do so in 2008. If you want to help by writing new articles or editing existing ones, leave a comment and we'll talk.

MC Media Player

At the start of this year I moved the whole MC Media Player project to a new domain at www.mcmediaplayer.com. This was quite a gamble and I sure hope it pays off.

I officially started this project in 2006. It evolved from a video player I'd made a few years earlier for TATV (local community video for my home town). At the time there weren't really any decent Flash video players available that did what I needed, in particular a good playlist option. That's why I made my own.

I realised that I could make my player configurable so I could use it on other websites as well. From there it seemed like a good idea to make it public so anyone could use it. I expected to get a small amount of support but I was amazed to see it installed on hundreds of sites within the first few months. There are now many thousands of sites that use it and the whole thing has grown into a scary monster.

I recently started work on a new version of the player with the working title MC Altair. It's a functional but very basic player at the moment - I plan to develop it over the next couple of years into a replacement for the MC 720 version.

Partly to prevent myself feeling overwhelmed and partly to do the right thing by all of the player's users, I've decided to share the MC Altair source code with people who might like to help. I haven't done so yet because the code is still a mess but I'll get round to making it ready ASAP.

This project is hard work (especially for someone like me who isn't a professional programmer) but I do enjoy it and it's an important part of our overall internet strategy. I can't wait to get the new version tidied up and see where we can go with it. Stay tuned.

Media College

www.mediacollege.com is my pride and joy. Of all the sites I've worked on, none have enjoyed the same level of success or given me the same feel-good sense of satisfaction. There are heaps of things for me to love about this site, including the fact that it brings in a lot more revenue than any of the others :)

Inevitably, with success you get idiots. I love the compliments I get through Media College but I could live without the constant stream of emails from people who refuse to read instructions, listen to advice or behave in a civilized manner. However I won't get sidetracked with them - they aren't worth devoting blogspace to.

Media College is the only site we have with an active forum since we sold The Race Cafe a few years ago. It's not hugely busy but there's a good base of helpful people and I think it's a great forum. I don't participate as much as I'd like to because things are a little hectic in my life (baby & toddler etc). Fortunately the regulars are very good at answering questions in the main forums (video, audio etc) so I tend to work more in the less-busy forums and ones which need my input (web design, MC Media Player etc). Hopefully once things calm down in my personal life I might be able to spend more time in the forum.

As for other parts of the site, there's a lot of new sections waiting for more content (e.g. new Adobe tutorials, Photography, etc). I intend plugging away at these areas over the next couple of years. I don't generally announce new additions or tutorials because they tend to be ongoing minor updates that don't warrant a big fuss. However I'll try to use this blog to let you know what things I'm working on and what new features to expect.

Like all my sites, Media College will never be "finished". The scope for tutorials and other resources is practically unlimited. I intend spending the rest of my working life improving this site. With the help of our regular viewers and feedback from casual visitors I think it will continue to be a big force in the field of online media education.

Massive thanks to all of you who have helped make Media College what it is. I love you all :)

3D Video

This afternoon Marc Dawson brought round some anaglyphic footage he shot in the South island last year. I'm trying it out to see how it will look on the web. I'm using the H.264 codec which looks promising, but the quality of the resulting footage isn't where we need it to be just yet.

Anaglyphic video for the web is quite challenging as the common compression codecs tend to kill the 3-D effect and introduce nasty artifacts. I'm hoping to keep experimenting with this throughout the year and see if I can nail a system that does the footage justice.

The new video page is taking shape here.

New Home Page for 3DNZ

A couple of days ago I overhauled the home page of 3dnewzealand.com. Previously the home page was where the main map was located, which was fine if that's what you came here for but a waste of time if you were looking for something else. I decided to give the maps & satellite images an area of their own and make the home page more of a portal like it should be. The home page map was an experiment that didn't work out, basically.

At the moment the site is pretty much divided into two areas: The maps/satellite images and the 3D photos. Very soon I'll be adding an experimental video section. After that I'll try and publish some more 360-degree panoramas and make them more accessible.

New Blog

Yet again I find myself trying out a new blog system. Maybe it's like the old "geographic solution" - when your life isn't working out you move somewhere new in the hope that a different location will fix everything.

I've decided to give blogger.com a try, largely because it fits in well with Google Accounts that I use already. I'm going to try and consolidate my blogs from different projects into this one - maybe it will be more manageable like that. I'm setting up different topics (labels) so you can choose which topics or projects to subscribe to. I don't know how user-friendly it will be but let's give it a try.

The "Ponderblog" topic is my own personal stuff, i.e. anything not directly related to one of the projects. I don't know how this will unfold yet. It could be a continuation of my previous blog where I commented on current events, but to be honest I'm not convinced I can be bothered with the flak I get (more about that in a later post). We'll see. I'll certainly post occasional chit-chat about me and the family, and just maybe I'll think about getting back into some meaning-of-life discussions. They are hard work though aren't they?