Fix It Until It Breaks

The deeper I got into the site the more wasn’t working and I was finding stuff no one had found before. It’s not supposed to be like this.

screengrab-blog-redesign.jpgIt’s been like performing dentistry on myself! The goal was to make my life simpler by developing the new look for my website on a server installed on my desktop PC then move it to a commercial server when finished. Maybe it will be easier. It hasn’t been so far!

When I went to move it off the desktop machine to its final resting place the site responded with an error message. Later it was the “white screen of death.” Finally I could see the home page but all links, even links to log in, were dead!

These are the times that try men’s souls. I had achieved Helaine’s oft spoken fear when I delve too deeply. I’d fixed it to the point of breaking it!

In an earlier entry the subject of the “WordPress Community” came up. WordPress is the platform on which the new site will be built. The community was there for me tonight, though not in the flesh. There is a treasure trove of archived forum posts online.
If something can be broken it already has been! I was able to go to school on other poor schlubs.

I wrote what you just read around 3:30 am. Before I could start patting myself on the back things broke so badly I had to stop writing. I didn’t get to bed until nearly 6:00 am.

It’s now after 1:00 pm. Where were we?

The deeper I got into the site the more wasn’t working and I was finding stuff broken no one had found before! It’s not supposed to be like this.

I started deleting plug-ins, which add functionality. That’s the typical response to this kind of problem and it usually works. Not here.
I will spare you my tooth gnashing. The problem seems to be a version of php, a programming language critical to blogging (and other dynamic sites). The blog was built with php5, the current version. My web host offers php5, but defaults to php4. They are not the same–think Latin and Pig Latin.

Worse still, when I finally found and put in the fix (the line “AddType x-mapp-php5 .php” was inserted in a hidden file called .htaccess) I left out the space between php5 and .php! Now the site was so dead I couldn’t even get to the administration screens!
It’s all fixed now and the site is up, but hidden in plain site at a different web address for the time being. There are still cosmetic fixes that need to be made. Sometimes text gets larger and smaller for no apparent reason. Mostly though I accomplished what I set out to do and I hardly pulled out any hair.

The new look debuts this weekend–maybe.

I Have Disappeared From The Web

How do you talk with God? And, who is God anyway?

Is Google God? They pull a lot of weight and have become the gatekeeper of the Internet. Tonight, they removed me from their index. It is an amazingly weird story.

I’ve been writing about my traffic here on the blog recently. I mentioned some suspected reasons for the dropoff, especially traffic referred by Google.

To confirm some suspicions, I did a Google search on this site. It would instantly tell me which of my pages were most popular.

I was stunned.

The list was long and mainly consisted of pages I hadn’t entered! The pages were virtually 100% made of keywords and links. They were obviously computer generated without human intervention.

I clicked on one. The address bar in my browser read… I went to my web server and looked for the files that made up this page. They weren’t there.

My friend and ix-guru Bob said my webserver might have been hijacked. The bad files were now hidden from me. That’s as good a guess as any, but wrong.

Though the address bar said, if you manually typed the web address you’d get a 404 error – page not found! Something was very fishy.

The content really wasn’t on my site. Somehow, Google had been tricked and was sending people one place while saying it was another. I’m totally confused.

I went to the Google Webmaster Help forum and posted a note. Twenty minutes later, the bogus ad pages were gone from Google. So was nearly everything else in my site. A few hours later, the rest vanished.

As I write this, if you enter “” in Google, you get nothing! I am devastated.

I went to Google’s Webmaster Tools.

Pages on your site may not appear in Google search results pages due to violations of the Google webmaster guidelines. Please review our webmaster guidelines and modify your site so that it meets those guidelines. Once your site meets our guidelines, you can request reconsideration and we’ll evaluate your site.

Holy crap. Google has blacklisted me. As far as the Internet is concerned, I will cease to exist. No – I have ceased to exist!

I’ve already filled out a form, begging to be reconsidered, though I don’t know what I did wrong. Google won’t tell. They also won’t tell how long they’ll take to fix, or whether they’ll fix it at all.

Maybe Google isn’t God, but it sure acts like it. I’m just a little schlemiel with a simple website. What if my livelihood depended on this?

Bandwidth Thief At Work

My web traffic’s down. Can’t be sure why. Maybe I’ve become more boring. I’ll be asking for your help later this coming week.

Curious as I am, I went to the backend of this website tonight and took a quick look at part of my server logs I’ve don’t often check. two thirds of the clicks to this site were coming from a British football forum. That’s weird.

As it turns out, someone found a picture of two playing cards from an earlier entry here and linked to it. Every person who saw his comment (tens of thousands of them) was taking bandwidth from my site as they downloaded the image.

It was the equivalent of opening your wallet and showing a picture of your kids… but they’re really someone else’s kids!

Anyway, the graphic has been temporarily replaced. I was toying with the idea of writing something filthy, but thought the better of it and just typed my url on a white background. Now, every one of this guy’s posts features my web address.

We’ll see how long it goes until he figures out what I did.

The Nofollow Tag

Because you’re a human and not a computer, you’ve probably never seen a nofollow tag… and you probably wouldn’t care if you did see one. Nofollow tags are terrible for me as a blogger.

A little background. Search engines, like Google, are clever in how they decide which sites are important. You are judged by those who associate with you.

If popular sites link to you, you get some of their karma. More popular site links going your way means a higher Google page rank for you (and Google is the only search site that really counts).

It’s doubtful The New York Times or Drudge will link to me any time soon (and I probably couldn’t handle the traffic anyway). However, from time-to-time I make comments on other websites. Normally, these comments relate to my areas of expertise – like weather and media.

I don’t spam. I don’t comment for the sake of commenting.

It used to be, my comments (and my web address) were seen by the search engines. That helped elevate the importance of this blog, especially in my areas of expertise. I think that’s how Google and the others intended it.

Now, nearly all the comments I leave have a hidden tag appended to my website’s URL. I just left a comment on Jeff Jarvis’ Buzz Machine. He had posted an entry about TV news helicopters following car chases. That’s a subject I’ve commented on more than once.

Along with my name, I entered my website’s address. Unfortunately, just before, hidden within his website’s code, are the words “external nofollow.”

He’s telling Google not to follow the link to my site!

His site, along with many others, do this to every comment they receive. Maybe he’s right? Maybe self published links, like my URL, shouldn’t hold any weight at all.

On the other hand, the diminution of links through the “external nofollow” tag has moved my Google page rank from a 5 to 4, reducing my traffic by between 30% and 40% and cutting my AdSense income by at least 60%.

I’ll be the first to admit I want links for selfish reasons. I like the traffic. I like my thoughts being seen.

Just because it benefits me doesn’t make it wrong, does it?

I wrote Jeff Jarvis to tell him I was disappointed. He responded:

It is wordpress that sets that and it is purely spam. My host requires it.

That is how bad the spam problem is. Sorry.

Quite honestly, that’s the Internet equivalent of, “your call is important to us.”

After this was posted, Jeff Jarvis responded. Rather than leaving his comment a click away, I am moving it here within the entry:

Well, that’s rude. I sent you email immediately from a picnic on my Treo because I wanted to respond. I just got home and sent you another, lengthier response. And this is how you treat me? As I said in the email, I’m not the bad guy, spammers are. Blame them. To quote my second email, in full:

No disagreement. But the bad guys here are the spammers. Slime. Scum. Evildoers. I don’t blame my host; they have brought down my host more than once. Akismet, WordPress’ very good spam catcher, still misses many; I still have to kill them every hour or two. That’s how bad it is. Spam killed trackbacks. So far, it hasn’t killed comments, but it could. Spam blogs have also threatened the other means of tying together a conversation — Technorati and blog search revealing links to others’ blogs in a conversation — but so far, they’ve been able to keep only one step behind.

And by the way, it’s Jarvis, not Jervis.


I had mistyped Jeff’s last name. I have corrected and apologized for that error.

Where You’re From

Helaine started it with a couch conversation Sunday evening. She wondered, as I had in the past, where were you while you were reading this blog? The numbers are in, and I’m a little surprised.

About 100 of you have left a note on my website over the past few days, telling me where you are. Since I average over 1,000 page reads a day, it’s a significant, though not overpowering percentage of my readers. 59 of that group are reading in Connecticut.

That Connecticut number is a stunner, because website stat programs paint a very different picture. I tried to address this a few days ago and was a little confusing. Two of you responded, though it seems my poor choice of words let you miss the point.

Most ‘regular’ readers come in through the home page (or read my most recent entries through my RSS feed using Yahoo!, Google or an installed feed reader). Most out-of-state readers are probably here after following a search engine link which brought them to an older entry. They never saw my home page or my request.

Most of you (not all of you) know me from my job on TV. I’m not sure how that will affect my writing going forward… if it affects it at all. I already parse my words, remaining ever alert that what I say on my private website can reflect on my very public life.

A number of the respondents left their web address. That gave me a chance to take a peek at them.

Marko in Dayton, Ohio also has a blog – though no entries since April. He has built some pretty cool Pinewood Derby race cars with his son, referred to as “#2.”

Doug Harris is also a blogger and also stopped blogging in April. Did something happen in April I didn’t hear about?

Mike, in Arlington, VA has a website with a cool name: RadioMojo. His home page explains he’ll no longer be doing whatever it was RadioMojo did. Its date: April 25th.

You can’t make this stuff up.

A reader name Mumbles linked to his photos on Flickr. There’s a lot to like here. I enjoy looking at other photographers work, trying to find ways to improve mine.

I wonder if Mumbles knew I’d look at his work… or guessed I’d tell you to look? He probably wanted me to look at them. Mission accomplished.

Chuck Schultz sent his photo link too. He’s into racing cars and dogs. You can tell a lot about a person by their photos. Dogs are very photogenic. They never mind posing nor care if you take too many photos.

I wonder if there was a downside to growing up as Charles Schultz… but not ‘the’ Charles Schultz.

Chuck is a ham operator. There are a bunch of them here. I wrote an article recently in the national ham radio magazine, QST. I’m sure that brought some of them to my site.

Jeff in Muncie, Indiana is a ham too, with a blog and a podcast. That’s an undertaking. I listened to some of his latest entry about Hiram Percy Maxim, in many ways the father of ham radio. The podcast sounds like the kind of first class radio production you often hear on NPR.

Jeff has links on his blog… though none to me. I like links.

Am I boring you? You don’t have to read this if I’m boring you.

My father left a message. My sister left a message. My cousin left a message.

Meredith has put much of her life online in a free form way. That’s how this website started, but I found it too difficult to be free form on the web, which cries out for structure.

John, from “The new and exciting Bridgeport, CT” linked to his family’s website. I like this idea a lot, but I like reading “Christmas letters”.

My friend Kevin’s family just put up a family blog with my help. With four girls out in the world, often away from their Connecticut roots, their blog promises to keep the family closer.

Adam left a link for his blog. It is the antithesis of this one in that I have long entries while Adam is often satisfied with a few words or a sentence.

I like his reference to your worst hair decision ever.

When I was a kid, a new barber-in-training cut my hair so short that even pre-teen Geoff knew he was in trouble. I’m still cringing over that. The guy who owned the shop told me to come back in a few days and the hair would have grown back enough to repair the damage.

More recently, a news director sent me to her hair stylist, who proceeded to make me look like Lyle Lovett. Even Lyle Lovett doesn’t want to look like Lyle Lovett. And, I still had to wear the hair on-the-air. Mortifying!

Damon Scott checked in from Lubbock, TX. I’ve written about Lubbock a lot recently, because of the TV Guide Channel reality show about a Lubbock newsroom. They seem to be in reruns, because the DVR hasn’t recorded anything the last two weeks.

Damon is a jock, doing afternoon drive on Mix100. His photo is nowhere to be found on the station’s website. I looked. I always look for disk jockey photos.

When I was a disk jockey, I used to answer the ‘hitline’ trying to pick up girls who were calling to request songs. My first day in radio (really) I got a call from Jeanine, who told me about the sexual failings of a station’s newsman.

There is a medical term to describe his unfortunate haste. Jeanine was a little more blunt.

Damon – don’t pick up hitline chicks.

Actually, maybe they email photos first now? Damon, use your best judgment.

McD is another blogger who wrote back. His home page has a very nice line drawing of him (I think) in the upper left corner.

There’s something very folksy about the sketch. If it’s possible to make a web page folksy, it’s mission accomplished by virtue of this little sketch.

You told me where you were and you told me from all over the United States. Most responses came from people I don’t know, though there are many readers who I count in my extended group of friends.

Seamus. Ireland. Cool. Thanks. I even know how to properly pronounce it! You are are token foreigner,

As long as you’ve read this far, I’ll let you in on something. I really enjoy knowing you read this.

Though smaller, by far, than the audience I reach on television, this is a much more personal medium. I try to speak my mind and hope you will still think kindly of me even as I reveal myself as a guy lots of faults and insecurities.

I worry you’ll tire of me, or I’ll become boring to you. I want to stay fresh and write meaningful things, but is that possible when you force yourself to compose at the keyboard every single day? I don’t know.

More than one a friend in LA has picked up on something trivial I’ve written about and said, “no one wants to know you ate corn last night.” We depend on our friends for life’s true wisdom.

At the bottom of this screen and on every computer I use on a regular basis, there is a counter. Every 15 or 20 minutes it tallies the page hits to my website. I look at it all the time.

At 3:00 AM EDT it resets to zero. I don’t like that part.

What I Found Out About Google

I’m in the final days of prepping my new website business. Part of what I’m planning is the promotional aspect – advertising.I am going to use Google AdWords, among other devices, to get the word out.

So, today I started playing around, creating those little text ads you see all over the net. Twenty five characters for the title. Thirty five characters for the two additional lines. The web address gets another thirty five spaces on the bottom.

It’s automated – no surprise there.

It wouldn’t let me use the word ‘best.’ No substantiation, it said. If I said I was the best, I’d better prove it.

What about ad puffery? Everyone’s the best!

They also wouldn’t let me use “21st Century.” It’s someone’s trademark. Uh… isn’t it a pre-ordained century? How does one get to corner that market?

The site goes live early next week. I will reveal more then. If you’re not in TV, it’s not a big deal – honest.

Who Is Andrew Breitbart And Why Is Matt Drudge Throwing Him All Those Links?

I’m a habitue of Drudge. Though Matt Drudge has a political and sometimes social agenda, the site links to news I find interesting and does it on a fast and constant basis. Drudge is mostly a collector of news rather than a reporter. Just about all his headlines point to stories on other sites.

Until recently, most of Drudge’s stories came from traditional sources. If a story was actually from the Associated Press, he’d find a website carrying it and link there. You’d be directed to a newspaper, TV station, magazine or Yahoo, which carries wire service reports.

Now, he’s started linking to lots of stories on looks like an automated aggregator of AP and Reuters wire stories.

Quite honestly, I’d never heard of it or of Andrew Breitbart, the person whose telephone number is listed as the contact for the web address.

I’m not in Los Angeles, but I used Google’s mapping facility to look at’s physical address. It looks like a residential area just off the San Diego Freeway and near UCLA.

Then I started checking his name. Here’s a quote from Andrew Breitbart on author Roger Simon’s site.

The New York Times got it right — I am amicably leaving the Drudge Report after a long and close working relationship with Matt Drudge, a man who will rightfully take his place in the history books as an Internet news pioneer. I am also excited to be a partner in an inspired new endeavor, the Huffington Post. The last time I worked with Arianna she got a guy who didn’t deserve to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery disinterred. That was cool. I admit: I like to go where the action is.

And, if you go to the Internet Archives and look at some older pages, they actually show Drudge’s site. Well, they all do except this one. Oops.

So, it looks like Breitbart is now somehow connected with Arianna Huffington – liberal and, once again, Matt Drudge – conservative.

Is Drudge is sending all this traffic Breitbart’s way out of the goodness of his heart?

There’s nothing nefarious here (well nothing I can see). If there’s a financial relationship between Breitbart and Drudge, traditional journalists might question the ethical connotations of linking for profit. There’s nothing I’ve looked at that says that’s what’s happening and far be it from me to judge ethics. I just don’t know.

I’m writing what I found because I saw unusual online behavior and put 2+2 together. It’s all out in the open.

For me, it was interesting to see this new website spring up and get much of Drudge’s business. That’s where my curiosity kicked in. If you can aggregate tens or hundreds of thousands of hits… or more, Google ads (or similar ads, sold by others and placed on your site) alone could make a small, automated website very profitable with little investment or ongoing effort.

Blogger’s note: While looking through more websites, trying to read up on Andrew Breitbart, I stumbled on the fact that his father-in-law is Orson Bean. If the name means nothing to you, don’t worry. If you’re my age, Orson Bean was a very witty New Englander who worked the TV game show circuit in the 60s and 70s. I was a big fan. I wondered where he went.

Google Does Maps

I just got the tip on this tonight. Something news from Google and it’s very cool. They have added their own maps site.

As I remember, until today, entering an address in Google would bring you links to other map sites. Now Google does it themselves… or at least brands it as their own.

The big difference is, this is the first map site that seems designed for higher resolution screens and broadband. There are no little cluttered maps to be found. These are the nicest looking street level maps I’ve seen on the web.

Here’s an example – a map of where I grew up in Queens, and directions from there to my TV station.

If you point and drag, the map follows your mouse. If you click on any part of a trip’s directions a new close-up map appears. It’s quite elegant.

From a web standpoint, the specific information for any map is easily coded into its web address, making this a boon for web designers. On the other hand, it looks like the right mouse button is turned off while you’re over a map making it difficult to ‘scrape’ their content.

Another Pox On My Web-house

I look upon the Internet as Manhattan circa 1974. There are museums and cultural attractions. There are hookers, scams and slime. Everyone lives together, though grudgingly at times.

As with the Manhattan of 30 years ago, the underbelly businesses on the net are constantly trying to gain an advantage – often at the expense of the legitimate residents. One of the ways we all see this is in spam. As the proprietor of a website I have additional tsuris. Today, a new one.

I think I have complained before of what’s called ‘comment spam.’ Scummy websites, which could never achieve legitimate ‘weight’ on Google, plant comments on blogs like mine. The comment itself might be as innocuous as: “Ain;t it the truth” or “I couldn’t agree more.” The comment isn’t as important as the fact that it’s accompanied by their web address. That address, appearing on loads of blogs, will increase their Google rank – a very valuable commodity.

I scan all the comments I get, and these spurious ones are gone in a hurry. I hope all bloggers are as diligent – though I’d guess they aren’t. A few days ago I woke up to find a few dozen of these, all from an IP address in Russia.

Now another parasite rears it’s ugly head. Today I started getting bounced spam email – email sent to addresses that don’t exist or won’t accept the mail for other reasons. Why am I getting these bounces? Because the spammer put a return address (nothing more than a random jumble of letters) that ends “”

Already, because of this spam, at least one website has informaed me that mail from this site will be refused! It’s a site I don’t care about, but they surely aren’t alone.

What did I do to get this honor? Nothing. I’m sure I was just picked at random as the spammers tried to hide behind any scent of legitimacy they could find.

I continue to say, unless email is fixed so it can be trusted, the Internet will surely die or lose its incredible promise.

Getting Slashdotted

I submitted another story to Slashdot, which was accepted and published over the weekend. I like Slashdot, because I think I understand the audience I’ll reach. In this case, the story was about do-it-yourself weather forecasting and the tools available on the net.

I mentioned GrADS, software I use to produce weather graphics, and a few government sites. Bright and early Monday morning, I got an email from the GrADS site telling me they had be slashdotted!

“Slashdotted,” describes the effect that follows having your web address published on Slashdot. All of a sudden, thousands of geeks from around the world are pounding on your site, trying to see what’s so interesting. In many cases, the sites just stop working or crash under the incredible traffic.

The folks from GrADS were actually happy. Their goal is to get their projects and software recognized and used. This got them a little closer.

I knew what would happen if I exposed my site to the barrage, so I linked to a single graphic… a small chart showing forecast conditions in New Haven, CT. It’s something so esoteric that no one would have it but me. That one graphic got well over 5,000 hits.

If I would have linked to a full page, with photos and text and links, my site would have gone down under the strain. I also might have exceeded the 6 gigabytes of throughput I pay for (and never use) each month.