The Inflationary Pressures of Links

Over the years people have asked me why I maintain yafla.com(after a Slashdotting a few years ago, a reader wrote to askif yafla.com stood for “Yet Another F’n Lame Ass.com?”. I gotquite a kick out of that, and I considered replacingYet Another FiveLetter Acronym in my mind withthis more cynical variant). While it is a legitimate company that Ido work under, basically I’m by design a one man crew and haveno lack of work, so I don’t actively solicit for business.Nonetheless I’ve always wanted to maintain a credible internetpresence just in case I think up something that would be .COMbrilliant.

To serve this desire, one of my goals with yafla.com was tomaintain it at a middling ranking, publishing enough interestinginformation that people would link to it and visit, and when I dopost something interesting about a non-mainstream topic, it atleast has a chance in heck of appearing somewhere near the front ofthe links returned by search engines (given that people whoactually care are most likely to get here via a searchengine. People coming from blog-of-the-day or discussion links aremuch more likely to be fly-bys who pad the hit-count but don’tactually value from the content. I get no pleasure from emptyhits).

Of course there’s also the personal credibility angle: Alongwith published print articles, I also post informational tools orpapers on yafla.com to maintain some karma in the industry, andalso as a goal – a destination – that drives me to investigatetopics that otherwise I might not so thoroughly consider. I’veplaced Google Adsense ads on a couple of papers as a test, but theyyield a pittance: I could “make” far more than the Google ads yieldby getting a regular coffee instead of a large in the morning.

One thing I have noticed, however, is that the number of hitscoming from search engines like Google has been rapidlydeclining over the past couple of years, basically charting as aninverse of the number of blogs filling the medium. It seems that asmore and more blogs are coming online, all of thempromiscuously cross-linking and trackbacking, the value ofgetting a couple hundred links for a neat domain tool, or a dozenlinks from highly specialized sites concerning a specific topic,has declined to the point of being irrelevant.

With the new inflationary pressures, it seems that nothing lessthan thousands of blog swarming links will really get you searchengine credibility. This is doubled by the fact that most (orall) of the major search engines are terriblydumb, in that a million generalist blog linkings to a guyfor his xbox game tips will yield him top results for SQLqueries the day he posts his first Hello World SELECTstatement. To my knowledge there is no search engine that separateslinks out into areas of expertise (Google pseudo-does this byanalyzing the context of each link, but it is terribly deficient),eliminating this useless global ranking for all searches. Manyblogs are earning credibility by association (due to demonstratableweaknesses in algorithms like Pagerank), such as the huge rise ofblogs.msdn.com entries for virtually every search term (even wherethe individual blog itself has few or no direct links from theoutside world, but has credibility by being linked within the wholeof blogs.msdn.com. This is weakness I wrote about several years agoon this very site, though in that iteration it was GeoCitiesaccounts that were disproportionately being ranked).

The question I am pondering, then, is whether the only way onecan remain internet credible (in search engine terms) is tointegrate heavily within the blogging community, quid-pro-quoingendless links and trackbacks, ingratiating oneself with otherbloggers, posting meaningless comments about every posting everyother blogger makes (which they will of course do in turn). It’s asort of super-pyramid scheme, but with no bottom level.

Hibernation

Several years of critical power shortages here in Ontario, alongwith a sense that excessive resource consumption is morally wrong,have led me to power down my PCs when they’re not in use. While I’dprefer a partial sleep solution, even standby mode consumes aconsiderable amount of power (measured not with a watt meter, butrather just feeling the heat of the air coming out of the stillrunning power supply). While Windows XP and Windows 2003 havevastly improved start-up times, once you couple ina large number of services such as SQL Server and various desktopsearch utilities, along with tools like Visual Studio, getting backto where you were before the shutdown can be very timeconsuming.

As such, over the past years I’ve been relying upon theexcellent feature called Hibernation. Enabled in the Power Options(as shown below), this gives you a new “Shut Down” option(available by configuring a key in the advanced section of powermanagement, or when holding shift using the XP theme shutdown menu)that basically freezes the state of your PC and then spools theentire memory contents out to a file. On restart it spools thestate back exactly where it was, resets the state on the CPU, andthen you’re off and running again. Getting back to exactly where Iwas takes just a few seconds.

Back in about 1986/87 a revolutionary product, I believe calledSnapBack, for the Atari ST came out that did exactly this, spoolingout the state, compressed, to a disk file. Of course, in that caseit was generally spooling out 512KB or 1MB, rather than 1GB+, butthe idea was the same. At that time people often used it to add”Save Game” functionality to games that intentionally orunintentionally didn’t offer the same. Other people used it forpiracy, spooling out a running game (after the copy protectionchecks had occurred), and then giving the file to others.

Just had to mention this as it’s remarkable how many peopledon’t know about, and thus don’t use, this excellent feature. Itisn’t perfect, however, and several times it has failed to recoverto where it was, so you probably shouldn’t hibernate with thatdocument you’ve worked on for the past three weeks sittingunsaved.

Opportunities from Hurricane Katrina

The title of this entry will likely get some people up in arms.I assure those people that I do not mean to draw attention from thetragedy, or to diminish it in any way. Nor do I think this blogentry will stop a single rescuer from going about theirbusiness.

However, what has happened has happened, and many of us havepledged our monetary donations and are really left twiddling ourthumbs at what else we can do.

As software developers and technology experts, I think there isplenty we can do. For instance, there were obviously technologicalgaps in information management (knowing who and what was wherewhen, and sharing that information with everyone. The lack of thissort of knowledge led to some of the chaos that horribly delayedthe response). After the disaster technology was necessary forcommunications, with many of the emergency personelle and victimshaving no means of communicating. There were gaps in batterystorage, with basic infrastructure dying quickly. There were gapsafter the pieces began to be cleaned up, coordinatingcommunications amongst the victims in various municipalities.

Technology can’t stop a category 5 hurricane (yet), but it canhelp ameliorate the damage and to help society get back on track asquickly as possible.

Given this, invariably this tragedy will be followed by billionsof taxpayer dollars going into various strategies to preventoccurrences like this from happening again, or to at least have abetter grasp on responding to it. Many of those dollars will begoing towards IT projects. Something to keep your mind open to ifyou have ideas for solutions that would avoid this sort ofnightmare scenario from happening again.

Something to think about.

Taking the Plunge Into Blogging

I’ve finally decided to take the plunge into blogging. While I’ve published countless online and print articles, papers, and of course an endless stream of perhaps hundreds of thousands of online message board and forums postings, beginning back in the BBS days with my Commodore 64, I’d never actually taken the initiative to evaluate the various blogging tools and services.

At least not to a level where I was comfortable making a definitive choice and actually moving forward with one.

I should confess that part of the reason I delayed getting into the blogging game was due to a desire to roll my own blogging tool. Eventually each initiative would fall prey to the standard Babbage’s Syndrome of worrying about every possible use and technology, and I’d shelve it again: It just wasn’t important enough for me to spend much time and energy on, yet I really wanted to do it myself.

I’ve finally decided to go with Radio Userland, a fairly simple little tool that publishes blogs as static content, something I greatly prefer over database driven dynamic content. I also want to be entirely in control of the content ownership and “fringe benefits”, which rules out many of the hosted services. Over the coming couple of days I’ll actually work on the themes and clean it up and personalize it.

Why so late to get into blogging Generally I have two styles of writing, formal and informal. Formal writing is where I spend hours here and there over perhaps a week on a 3000 word essay detailing a specific topic. I carefully prune and shape every sentence into what I think is a readable and worthwhile resource for readers.This is not the sort of venture that blogging is really intended for, so I stuck with the standard “write it in a word processor,then eventually reformat to HTML and FTP it up. Voila” style of posting content. On the flip side, I’ve posted countless informal off the cuff – and often poorly thought out and poorly edited -messages on forums and message boards. These, by design, are generally disparate and diffused, and only marginally associable with me.

With blogging I am looking for somewhat of a middle ground: I’d like quick and relatively low effort postings where I can speak my mind about this industry (and whatever else comes to mind), yet which are easily attributable to me in a centralized, search-engine friendly manner, and where those who appreciate my mindset andskillset can more easily follow my postings.

I hope you like it.

BTW: You can find several of my online papers at http://www.yafla.com/papers/articles.htm.