Libby Arrives!

Libby has arrived in her new home as of about 4:30 or so today, completely knocked out by the anesthesia she was given. However, she didn’t actually have any surgery. Apparently, while the vet was prepping her to be spayed, they discovered a previous scar that suggested that she had been spayed previously. When we picked her up, she yowled rather plaintively when we put her in the car, but then went right back to sleep. She started waking up an hour or so after she got home, but she’s still somewhat numb – she’s not walking in a very coordinated way, and it’s obvious that she has yet to regain feeling in her tail, since it’s dragging on the ground. She’s already dragged it through her water dish twice without even noticing!

The vet did notify us that she needed an additional treatment for distemper in a couple weeks, and also that they had detected signs of tapeworm and had already treated her for it. She also needs to have some drugs to prevent ringworm, which need to be given in the next day or so, so Amanda and I will need to go to the grocery store and get some deworming medicine. We have scheduled her initial vet appointment with a Dr. Mitchell at the Westside Olympia Animal Hospital on Harrison – I may report back on that visit in a few weeks.

She’s a very gentle and currently somewhat timid cat. We have her downstairs in our combination guest bathroom and laundry room, and we’ve been alternating between leaving her alone and visiting her. She has discovered that she’s small enough to fit behind our washer and drier, and she crawls behind it, then peeks out at us from the little crack between the machines. The crack is big enough that it almost looks like she could fit through it, and she has tried, but alas, she must go around, then jump over herself to get back out! She was also very tolerant of my camera and our attention – hence the photo. I have yet to hear a peep out of her beyond her initial yowl in the car, but Amanda claims she’s meowed twice.

She’s going to be an indoor cat – many thanks to Sean to reinforcing my suspicion that confining her during the times we’re gone isn’t a bad idea. This is part of the initial introduction of a cat to a home anyway – give them a limited territory, then gradually allow them to expand that territory. That may not work too well in a place like this where most of the house has an open layout, but we’ll let her roam in a day or two after she’s adjusted to using her litter box and where her supplies are.


At right is our newly adopted cat, Libby. She’s not home yet (she’s due to be spayed tomorrow and will be transported to the vet by Thurston County Animal Services, which is where she’s being adopted from), but we’re looking forward to it.

What we know: she’s a year and a half old, FELV negative, and up-to-date with routine shots. Past that, she’d have to tell us.

Perhaps we can teach her sign language…?


If you’re seeing this, it means that my recent change of web hosts has been successful. Obviously, not quite everything is done yet – this blog usually carries the same layout as my personal site, but since the WordPress template associated with that is currently broken, you may see some odd layout results from time to time as I try to fix the problem.

For those wondering, I’ve switched from pair Networks to Dreamhost, which gives me as much functionality as pair but far more flexibility in terms of cost and the number of domains I can host on my account. That’s not to say I’m ragging on pair Networks; I absolutely recommend them to anyone looking for a competent and stable web host that puts their customers first. Case in point – as I was moving files over to Dreamhost, I found that I couldn’t access my domains via web or SSH but could ping and traceroute to pair’s server. A ticket request into pair’s Urgent Support system and 30 minutes of lobbing messages back and forth traced the problem to an xmlrpc file (WordPress, specifically) that got an abnormal number of hits. Since this can sometimes be a server attack, pair’s network blacklisted me. Support was nice enough to whitelist my IP block to fix the problem.

If that doesn’t speak volumes (and that their Urgent Support people were on the job within five minutes of my e-mail), I don’t know what does!

The Importance of Good (Visual) Design

A study done recently on the reactions of web surfers to web pages reveals that visitors decide whether a site is worth looking at or not within milliseconds of seeing the page load. This, of course, is only a component of whether visitors decide to stay on a particular web site. Load times and quality of content still matter, but this is a suitable red flag to web designers, web developers, and graphics designers alike: visuals matter more than you might think.

It’s a little astounding that it took so long for this fact to come to light. It’s well-known in the Web world that you have somewhere around 5 seconds to grab a user’s attention once they arrive on a page, and this discovery doesn’t change that. Certainly, it’s possible for a page to be so monstrously hideous that a user must immediately cringe and recoil; we’ve known that too. Intuitively, we’ve also known that something that doesn’t look clean or professionally done is less likely to sell and be convincing than something that has a great deal of monetary investment and thought. From the physical marketing world, all this is one great big "well, duh"; the realization that visuals control not only impact but level of interest is something that has held in print media for a very long time.

So why does this come as news to web designers?

It indicates an evolution of the web. Whereas before, where we were merely concerned with the code, making valid and correct HTML that is readable across all browsers; where we prized content just as much as design; where we were sometimes more interested in simply providing the information quickly over the quality of the presentation; now, we have a kick upside the head. Again, "well, duh" – or is it? What does this have to say for beginning web designers just stepping into the world of online design? For that matter, what does it tell people like me who are good at layout, content management, and backend programming, but are absolutely clueless when it comes to graphics?

My personal lesson from this is a validation of my personal design philosophy: simple and clean. The key is to strike a balance between appropriate visuals and the information presented. Sometimes, this can mean very minimalistic approaches (I give the Teen Tutoring Project as one of my personal design examples). On the other hand, this can mean something very straightforward, but imbued with a subtle message that is hidden within the layout and design itself. That philosophy has held across all my clients. I tend to match with clients that share this philosophy, but that’s another article.

In the long run, having this information can only be beneficial, but we have to decide whether this is simply one more fact to intimidate web designers into using flashier technologies (no pun intended) or whether this is a broader lesson: one of balance and a warning not to oversell the message through visual impact.

To me, that’s not just another "well, duh".

Influencing Google’s AdSense

The New York Times today has an article on its web site entitled "Google’s Shadow Payroll Is Not Such a Secret Anymore".

This is an interesting article because it does discuss AdSense and how people have used the system as a profit resource on forums. The article also speaks more widely to the success of the AdSense program and how that program has grown with the introduction of more fine-grained target advertising.

One area of concern, Mr. Hogan said, was whether the forum’s participants would skew their postings to earn more money. For instance, since advertisers in certain categories, like sexual-performance drugs, pay much more to place their ads on Google and its affiliated sites, you might expect technology discussions to randomly veer in that direction.

“But that hasn’t happened, thankfully,” Mr. Hogan said. “Probably because there isn’t that much revenue in it for them.”

This raises a very interesting point, in my opinion – AdSense is marketed to be somewhat inconspicuous so as not to detract from the content on the site (and, I would say, achieves this fairly well). Certainly, the success of AdSense is driven by pure numbers – like most ad programs, they likely count only unique hits to site rather than total hits. But what happens when (or if) someone attempts to influence the direction that advertising goes by creating content so specific that AdSense can’t help but pick up on it?

This is a philosophical as well as an ethical question. Philosophically, it would make some sense to create this sort of targeting, since you would be drawing keywords from the AdSense network that you might not otherwise see on the site – whether this equates to higher revenue or not remains to be seen, especially since the commenter in the article seems to indicate that this is unlikely. You might also end up recreating your audience for the site entirely as an unintended side effect. But is this ethical? Strictly speaking, this could be construed as a violation of Google’s AdSense Terms of Service. Candidates for such infractions could include subsection 2, under “General”:

You agree not to display on the same Web page in connection with which any Ad Unit, Ad, Link, Search Box, or Referral Button is displayed (a “Serviced Page”) any advertisement(s) that an end user of Your Site(s) would reasonably confuse with a Google advertisement or otherwise associate with Google. If You have elected to receive content or Site-based Ads, You further agree not to display on any Serviced Page any non-Google content-targeted advertisement(s).

This is where it gets a little iffy – it could be said that, by attempting to influence the results of an AdSense advertisement by creating your own content, you are in fact creating something that could be “reasonably confuse[d] with a Google advertisement or otherwise associate[d] with Google”. More than likely, there are other sections of that Terms of Service that might directly be relevant to such an issue.

There is a social stigma, however, that is attached to trying to bypass or subjugate computing systems, so the social norm of most bloggers and forum posters on the Web would heavily steer the group away from this through the power of group dynamics. But the question remains, whether academic or otherwise. Whether there is a final answer to this has yet to be seen.

Further Excerpts from The Spam Bible

In the spirit of this old blog post, I bring you further excerpts from the Spammer’s Bible:

And the e-mail clients were ripe for picking, and they said to Us, “Advertise at a minimum cost! Make us distrust marketing entirely and sell us our Viagra!”

Overlooked was the fact that Viagra did not yet exist on yon Earth.

Those first billion e-mail transactions in thy faithful language of binary – 10010001 – blessed us holy and netted us one cent.

Thus spake the original spammers: SmallCap! Re-finance! Loww ratess! Skyrocket!

I have written of spam before, and it seems appropriate again now.

The Proper Care and Feeding of the In-House Graphic/Web Designer

My good friend Jeff Fisher somehow time-leaped into the future and posted The proper care and feeding of the in-house graphic designer. He has an excellent start, but I’d suggest a few contributions:

11. Ask Questions.

Many times, miscommunication about a project stems from the designer and her client speaking two different languages. Don’t be afraid to ask your designer how they came up with the ideas they did based upon the result you receive. As long as you are open and receptive, there is no reason why a conversation about the final result won’t result in better work later on (and a better understanding of your designer’s abilities).

12. Be Specific.

Closely related to numbers 5 and 7, if you have specific criteria for a project, state them as clearly and openly as you can. All the information in the world won’t make a difference if you wanted apples and got oranges.

13. Learn About You (From a Design Perspective)

Let’s face it – getting people to talk about themselves or their work can lead to a gold mine of information and better interpersonal relationships. Get your designer to talk to you once in a while about the trends she sees in your industry, the kinds of things that she thinks can be improved about your work, and pretty much anything else. An excellent relationship with your designer now pays back in spades later.

Further Thoughts

Sometimes the sad reality of lists like this is that designers have to "train" people to think this way. Beware – such activity may indicate that your designer will be leaving before you know it! Designers like to be in places where they fit in, are provided plenty of nourishment, and are, in general, proud of the work they do and proud of their company.

Something I tell people who are considering hiring a designer is to shop around a bit for a best fit. A designer who is thoughtful and intuitive but often quiet won’t do well in a company full of loud, boisterous employees. Consider not only portfolio work but how that designer interacts with her environment. Following all these recipes should make for a happy experience for all involved!

Social Networking via LinkedIn

I’ve been sending out a few invitations via the social networking site LinkedIn lately. This is a web site that’s dedicated to business networking, so it has a job search feature and features that allow you to post your résumé and personal information for other users of the LinkedIn network to see. It’s a terrific opportunity to explore your personal connections and the connections that other people can, in turn, bring you.

Allow me to step back for a moment. What’s the point of such a site? Why bother to formalize your connections at all when it doesn’t bring immediate benefit? It’s not a safeguard at all – to me, it’s a way of articulating connectivity. It’s not about the number of links you have, necessarily — though the higher number of links within your business network, the more likely you are to be able to utilize the system for what it was intended for — but instead, it’s about allowing others to see the opportunities that they can take advantage of.

I have been putting some gentle pressure on friends of mine who are already on LinkedIn for exactly this reason – trying to see and take advantage of the opportunities they can give me. This isn’t at all self-centered, since, through my network, they can take advantage of the opportunities I can give them, whether that’s referrals for services or simply an opportunity to expand the number of people they know.

So, to those of you who have gotten an invite or are already connected to me, consider this a chance to see the kinds of people I know, have talked to, or have worked with. Some of them are truly interesting, astounding individuals.