Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Culture of Giving

It's Memorial Day weekend, which means we spend a lot of time at Native American pow-wows.

We enjoy the drumming, the dancing, and the relaxed atmosphere. This year, I was reminded of something I'd noticed in previous years. One of the families there had lost a member, and as a way of celebrating the life of their loved one, they gave everyone at the pow-wow a small gift. They also donated half a dozen of the canvas tents used by the pow-wow to the fairgrounds hosting the event.

Whatever else you might say about Native Americans, they have a firmly ingrained culture of giving. They give to celebrate, to mourn, and as a matter of course.

That's something I need to be better at (although, if my students are reading this, that doesn't translate to giving A's in classes).

Monday, May 21, 2007

Social Networking

Social networking is all the craze these days.

In fact, that's really what web 2.0 is all about, letting people network online in varied and interesting ways.

For example, I recently started using MyBlogLog. I don't have the widget with the faces installed yet, but I do have the tracking code so I can know how many people are reading this blog, and what links they clicked when they left the blog. Not particularly useful information for a personal blog, but MyBlogLog is also about communities. There's a sense of encouragement to view other people's blogs and comment on them.

Another social networking site I've joined recently is This is specifically a social networking site for online marketers (e.g. people who want to make money online). The emphasis is on building a network of contacts for support and advice. Most problems you'll come across have already been solved by someone, and it helps if you have a place to go to ask for help.

I'm not sure what the next big thing will be for the web. If web 1.0 was about people doing their own thing individually on the web, and web 2.0 is about enabling collaboration, what will web 3.0 be about?

Maybe an extension of the crowdsourcing mentality over at Cambrian House? Predicting the stock market by the collective wisdom of communities?

I don't know, but it's entirely possible one of my students in the next few years will be the one to make it happen.

That's a fun thought!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Good Intentions & More Squidoo

As a college professor, typically during summer I spend until the first of August or so doing non-school related projects (e.g. I goof off). This summer, I have the best of intentions. I want to prepare all of my material for my fall classes before I goof off for the summer.

We'll see how it goes. I've had some excuses to slack off a bit recently, since I have to order textbooks to review and they haven't arrived yet. But I have one class I want to take a completely different approach with than in the past, so there will be a significant amount of work preparing for that one.

Another intention is that I don't spend the entire summer creating new Squidoo pages. I'm not sure how I'll do at that one. I've already, since the Roleplaying With Kids lens was nominated lens of the day, written a couple more (one on Murder Mystery Party Ideas, and one on a review of a particular murder mystery party scenario, Curse of the Pharoah).

And may I just say, "Holy crap!" I just went over to Squidoo to get the links for the lenses I mentioned above, and found that Roleplaying With Kids is now ranked #25 out of over 100,000 lenses.

This is a big deal, because the lens was ranked #2,184 before being named lens of the day. It jumped to #105, then to #57, and now to #25. I know that this sort of trend cannot continue, because the lens simply doesn't get the traffic needed to sustain a high ranking (not that many people care about roleplaying with kids). Right now it's riding the lens of the day traffic. In fact, that traffic has dropped off considerably, so I can only imagine that lens rank takes the traffic in the last 7 days into account (that's a statistic shown prominently in your Squidoo dashboard).

As soon as the lens of the day traffic drops off the end of the 7 day period, the lens will start falling in rank.

But it's really cool to have one that close to #1, even if it's more or less a fluke. I'll have to resist the urge to keep writing more in the hopes of getting another one up that high.

Just as soon as I finish off the murder mystery party reviews for the other three or four scenarios I've run. ;-)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Squidoo Lens of the Day!

I've created almost a dozen lenses (web pages) at Squidoo. Some are about topics I'm passionate about, some are experiments in affiliate marketing, some are mostly placeholders I want to expand someday.

The very first lens I created was about roleplaying with kids. This is one of those subjects I'm passionate about. I firmly believe in spending quality time with your kids, and encouraging them to be creative and imaginative. Roleplaying does all that.

The lens initially was quite popular, going up to about 500 in lensrank (a mysterious quality rating that factors in the amount of traffic your lens gets, the ratings it gets, the phases of the moon, and many other things to rank each lens in order, from 1 to over 100,000). Then it started dropping steadily, going down to about 4,000.

I worked with it a bit more, getting it back up to 2,000, and pretty much figured it would stay there. When lensrank was updated last night, it was at 2,184.

Now and then, the Squidoo team picks a Lens of the Day to feature in an email sent out to all the lensmasters. Imagine my surprise when today's email featured my lens about roleplaying with kids! It's a bit like opening your daily paper to find a photo of yourself on the front page.

My lens, which typically averaged one or two visitors a day, has gotten 68 visitors in the hour or so since the email was sent (no, wait, while I was typing this post it got another 10 visitors). I'm not quite sure how to react to this. I feel like someone who was talking to himself and suddenly discovered other people were listening.

Anyway, it's a strange feeling, but I'm enjoying it. I'm glad that the lens that's getting the attention is the one I'm most proud of.

I'd encourage everyone to go over to Squidoo and create a lens or two on a topic you're passionate about. You never know who might read it!

(Another 5 people visited my lens in the last two paragraphs...where will it end?)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Surprising Find!

I did a search on myself on Google today, as a belated part of my last post (Who's Looking For You?), and found all the usual places I tend to turn up.

Except for This was the first time I'd found myself there, in fact the first time I'd heard about it. You can see my entry here.

This rating was left a few years ago (2/26/03), when I was teaching face to face at Franklin University. I was gratified to find that I'm considered to be helpful (5.0) and clear (4.0). The 3.0 in easiness is to be expected...I tend to expect a lot out of my students, and don't offer a lot of help unless they ask for it (I see value in the struggle to learn difficult topics).

I'm not sure whether I should be insulted or not that the hotness rating was a 0. I could understand a more recent rating like that (I've been teaching exclusively online at Franklin lately, so students don't get to meet me).

Ah well, I guess you can't have everything. Clarity and hotness are probably at opposite ends of the spectrum, and in a teacher clarity's more important.

At least, that's what I'll tell myself.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Who's Looking for You?

When I was in high school, a friend of mine was interested in making horror movies. So he'd recruit people to play zombies and record the action on an old 8mm camera. Eventually he got more and more skilled through all this, and managed to get some funding from a famous horror movie producer to make his own movie.

Before he was funded by the famous producer, I believed enough in him to lend him some money. I paid off a debt he'd owed to another person, and fronted him the money for an 8mm viewer editor. By the time the famous producer funded him, he'd apparently forgotten about my loan because I never did see any of that money.

Granted, it was only about $400, but in those days that was a lot. Recently I wondered how he'd done after we lost track of each other, and did some online searches. Turns out he's still directing horror movies and has founded his own studio (more about him at ). I was pleased to see that I had a mention in the credits of the movie he'd worked on while we were in high school.

But I still haven't seen any of the $400.

All this got me to thinking. How do you know who's looking for you? What sort of information will someone find out about you if they do an online search?

Up until now, it's been fairly hard to know who is searching for you. Unless you're famous, the chances are good that nobody searches for you often enough for the search engines to take notice. Generally you need at least one search a month for the search engines to be able to report the search in a keyword tool.

There is, however, an option. There's a website called Squidoo, where you can easily create a web page about any topic you like. Including yourself! The great thing about Squidoo is that web pages on Squidoo rank quite highly on Google. So a web page about yourself on Squidoo is probably going to be one of the first results if someone searches for you on Google.

This way you can help shape the sort of information people find about you when they search for you. You can take it a step farther, too, and find out where those people are located by using and tracking your visitors to your Squidoo page. Or you can put a form on your Squidoo page that will allow people to contact you.

Squidoo also gives you a little money back each month for creating web pages, so you'll probably find yourself creating more than just a page about yourself. Create pages about your hobbies, your likes and your dislikes, etc.

To get started with Squidoo, sign up here.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Adults and Babies

I've ranted a bit about this before, but it never ceases to amaze me.

My daughter is just about two years old now. Over the past couple of years I've watched various adults interact with her on their first meetings, and generally the fall into one of two categories.

Some people treat her with the same respect they treat other adults. They talk to her like an intelligent person, they respect her personal space, and generally seem like they see who she is.

The other group assumes that since she's a baby (well, toddler now...two years went by so fast!) they have an automatic license to interact with her on an intimate level. Touching her feet, caressing her cheek, holding her, not acknowledging the boundaries that she is clearly setting, that sort of thing. And all of this without ever once asking her permission.

I just don't get it. If they treated any adult stranger like this, they'd have every right to expect an indignant response. But there seems to be this need for adults to bond with every baby they see. I'm not quite sure what the root cause is, but I know that the second category of people far outnumbers the people who instantly treat her with respect.

Well, that's enough of a rant for now. It'll be interesting to see how old she has to be before the second category starts treating her differently.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Yahoo Answers

I've recently discovered Yahoo Answers.

Yes, I know it's been around forever, and as a self-respecting computer geek I really should have known about it before. I actually did know about it, but had never taken a look at it. I finally took a look at it, and saw a question I knew how to answer. So I answered it.

Now I'm hooked. I think it's worse than an online game, because when you get hooked on an online game you get to feel bad for being hooked on a game. Eventually the self-loathing gets to the point where you can break away from the game and do something else. But with Yahoo Answers, you're actually helping people.

It's hard to feel bad about helping people. Even if you're doing it online. A lot.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Lost Your Password?

I teach at a local college, and one of the courses I teach is the Intro to Computers course. We cover a lot of material, including the Microsoft Office tools.

If there's one thing that I want students to remember about Microsoft Office, it's this: Don't forget your password!

Here's the scenario. You have an Excel spreadsheet that contains confidential information, so you protect it with a password. This is a feature built into Excel. When you do a File->Save As, go to the Tools->General Options menu (the Tools menu on the Save As dialog, not the main one). You can enter a password. Thereafter, if someone wants to open the file, they need the password.

This is great from a confidentiality perspective. The problem is, people are always forgetting their passwords. This is apparently a big enough business that programs are sold for the sole purpose of recovering these passwords. And it's not only Excel and Word, but zip files, Quicken files, etc etc. If you can password protect it, you'll eventually lose the password.

Password Recovery Solutions is where I usually send people who've forgotten a password. The chance are good they'll have a product that'll recover the password for you. You'll pay for the product of course, but that's the cost of forgetting the password in the first place.

My advice? Don't use passwords on files unless it's absolutely positively necessary.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Does Your Writing Tell Your Gender?

The Gender Genie website says it can tell your gender based on a sample of your writing.

I tried it with some old posts from this blog, and they all came out male, which is right. Then I tried it with some newer posts from another blog I write, and they all came out female. Seems like it has more to do with writing style than gender. In particular, there are certain words that they say are "female" words, and certain words are "male" words.

And they're not talking about "flowers" and "cars", but words like "if" and "a". Yes, strangely enough, the use of proper grammar and including all the articles of speech can affect your gender. At least, it can affect what gender Gender Genie thinks you are.

Part of the problem with systems like this is that the words chosen as "female" and "male" were made by analyzing the writing of men and women, and then running the words they use through a magic computer blender to see which words were gender specific.

But that sort of technique doesn't cross educational and cultural divides well, or even deal well with people who are into different hobbies than the original population.

The Gender Genie would be a lot more useful if they had the option to correct the system's prediction and feed that back into the calculations, so it could become more accurate over time and adjust to changing cultural and societal influences.

Or maybe it's just an interesting waste of a few minutes. Either way, have fun with it!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Another Game

A quick update to yesterday's post. I came across another real time online game, Human Age. In this one you try to keep a caveman alive and help him (or her) to evolve through various ages of history.

Somehow, cavemen have jobs and markets and money, but other than that it's an interesting enough game. Each age is supposedly different, so by the time you figure out prehistory and start to get bored with it, you'll be able to move onto the next age. Each age has certain requirements for moving on...for cavemen, one of the requirements is learning how to make fires.

It's real time in the sense that once every day you get some benefit from what you're doing, so you should expect to check back in daily to adjust what's happening with your caveman.

Virtual human development game

free human development game

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Online Games

There's a new breed of online games out there since the last time I was looking.

Normally, the term "real time" means something fast paced that doesn't wait for you to think about what you want to do. These days, on the web, "real time" means just that...actions take minutes or hours to complete.

Take Knight Fight, for example. You take on the role of a knight, and can choose to be good or evil, or somewhere in between. You go on missions, you can attack or be attacked by other knights, get better at your skills and buy better equipment. Missions take a certain amount of real time. You get one hour a day of missions that gain you experience (experience is what you'll use to improve skills), and the rest of the time can be spent on missions that gain you gold (which can be used to buy new equipment, and for other things). You want to spend your gold when you get it, since if you're defeated by another knight they'll steal part of your gold.

Tribal Wars is another example of the new breed of online real time games. It's a basic resource management game, with the option of attacking other villages or teaming up with other villages for protection. All actions take a certain amount of real time. Tribal Wars is nice in that when an action is complete they send you an email letting you know. The email contains a link that takes you right to your village so you can plan your next action.

Various other games limit you on the number of actions you can take each day (e.g. Kingdom of Loathing), but the new games are more tied to each action taking a certain amount of real time. And from the standpoint of a website trying to get repeat traffic, that makes a lot of sense. Visitors return on a regular basis to take their next actions in the game.

These games are all free to play. Presumably they're supported by advertising, although most of the advertisements seem to be for other free games of the same type.

In any case, they're a nice diversion every now and then during the day.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Back again

Wow, it's been some time since my last post here!

That's what having a baby will do for you. Amelia's just about two years old now, and keeping me quite busy!

I thought I'd make a quick post carrying on with the topic of the last one. Cambrian House is alive and well, and still working to help their community create and implement business ideas. It's well worth a look, and now you even get a share of stock in Cambrian House just for signing up for their community.

I've also started another blog called Online Opportunity, where I talk about how to make money online (or sometimes, how to not make money online). That's been a hobby of mine for years, so I figured I'd blog about it to help others who are just starting out.

I'll try to keep this blog updated, too.