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?