TimYang.com ::: The Geek Blog

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Monday March 21

Political blogging in Asia

The blogosphere has been buzzing with the role of bloggers as political reformists, especially with their opinion swaying writing in the last American election. Some people have gone so far as to call for the blogger to be named as Person of the Year by Time Magazine. This has hit a nerve with ground-level asians who have long been shut out of their own predominantly autocratic government. But arguments of this sort have not reached governments like Malaysia's own. In the next generation of would-be politicians being groomed in political groups like UMNO Youth, none of them can be found among the blogosphere.

In the case of Malaysia it is not difficult to see why politicians don't take bloggers seriously. As far as they are concerned, the internet is filled with coffee-shop rabble of untamed youths who engage in mindless chatter, not to mention worthless rumour mongering, and do little else but play games when they should be applying themselves. It is of course a generalisation on their part, but it is not entirely without merit.

The politicians hold themselves stiffly (and some would say stuffily) above all that. They don't understand the technology nor the issues and implications of the movement. But the bloggers themselves, who ought to be doing more to invite them to learn, have done little to instill the kind of confidence that politicians seek in collaborators nor have the bloggers succeeded in finding a connection with them. Instead, bloggers have sought to become popular among the masses and have tried to use their popularity to bring about change through popularist pressure -- just like how they see their peers do it in the US. But that model doesn't work in Asia where political power lies in your sponsors or patrons. It does not rely on, as someone erroneously tried to point out to me a week ago, your peer supporters are.

Take for instance the most popular political blog in Malaysia http://jeffooi.com/ which gets almost 200,000 hits a month. Jeff Ooi comments on social issues in Malaysia, political movements, movements in the media and in big business practices. He criticises politicians with vehemence and makes thin allusions to corruption among them. These posts excite his readers. He plays to the gossip-loving side of Malaysians. With his huge monthly hits and citations in the local newspapers, it is a certainty that the powers-that-be are also aware of him. Yet they simply ignore him. He is not given recognition and is barred from entering their corridors. Popularity in the blogosphere is therefore not power.

The reasons for the deprecation of bloggers in politics might be numerous and complex. But one of them is apparent with a glance at the content of Jeff Ooi's blog. This blogger has fallen into the habit of using his celebrity to engage in muck-racking and nitpicking and to make snide remarks, belittling statements, questionable accusations, character executions by innuendo, name-calling, personal attacks and even going so far as to post the phone number and address of anyone with whom he disagrees and inviting attacks on that person. Jeff Ooi's tactics, widely regarded as aggressively controversial, do not lend bloggers any credibility with a political establishment that famously values congeniality. And no politician can reasonably be seen mingling with rabble-rousers without himself coming under criticism from his own peers.

Jeff Ooi is only one blogger but he is undeniably an influential one and the most visible opinion-leader. With his sway on the masses, he has inspired hundreds of Malaysian bloggers to mimic his irrepressible and vicious style. As a result, politicians and policy makers need look no further than his posts and those like his to easily dismiss bloggers as a fringe mob of agitators and belligerents with little rationality and standing no matter what their mandate.

The solution however does not lie with curtailing or censoring bloggers. Nor are sycophantic bloggers desirable. But if bloggers in Malaysia want to have any hope of being taken seriously and being engaged by policy makers and having real effect on politics, then the antagonistic attitudes of Jeff Ooi and others like him must first be removed from the conversations of the blogosphere. Then an advance toward greater demonstrations of emotional self-control and critical thinking is called for, without which any dialogue with policy makers is doomed. Damage to the credibility of bloggers in the eyes of the political establishment has already been done. So whatever credibility bloggers wish to have in the future is at stake.

The enemy to political blogging in Malaysia is not standing on the parapets of the establishment or weilding a baton. The enemy is already in the trenches.

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Sunday March 20

feedmap.net

Feedmap is a project by Chandrasekhar Thota, an employee of Microsoft, which uses geo positioning to map locations of bloggers and to form a geo-positioned blog directory. In English, that means you can find bloggers who are near you. Geourl.org did a half-assed job of this so that project died. I had to use Multimap.com to locate my geo position and multimap doesn't have my suburb listed so I had to make a guess. Not very accurate but close enough. You can see my map on the left side of this blog page. MSN Spaces bloggers got this service a while back so you can see a few of them already in the directory.

http://www.feedmap.net/

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Friday March 18

Peopleweb

Tribes.net is experimenting with a concept called Peopleweb which I think is both an open database format and online central repository for all online information related to you.

http://markpincus.blogspot.com/2005/03/peopleweb-i-believe-we-are-close-to.html

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Danny Boy is not Irish, it's English

Here's how to piss off all your Irish friends (after they wake up from their StPD coma). The lyrics to Danny Boy was actually written by an Englishman. The tune is probably Irish, but it's a folk piece so the composer is unknown.

To begin with, Danny Boy is one of over 100 songs composed to the same tune. The author was an English lawyer, Frederic Edward Weatherly (1848-1929), who was also a songwriter and radio entertainer. In 1910 he wrote the words and music for an unsuccessful song he called Danny Boy. In 1912 his sister-in-law in America sent him a tune called the Londonderry Air, which he had never heard before. He immediately noticed that the melody was perfectly fitted to his Danny Boy lyrics, and published a revised version of the song in 1913. As far as is known, Weatherly never set foot in Ireland.

http://www.standingstones.com/dannyboy.html

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Corporate Blogging Rules

A good look at what a corporate blogging policy looks like. A lot of it makes sense. I just wish it were licensed under Creative Commons so that other people could share it.

http://michaelhyatt.blogs.com/workingsmart/2005/03/corporate_blogg.html

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Top 40 Yangs

Considering that there are 10 gazillion Yangs in China, I feel kind of privileged to be found in the top 40 results in Google. Now if only I could be among the top 100 for Tims in Google. I'm still languishing somewhere around position 240 in Google and 160 in Yahoo.

http://google.com/search?q=yang&num=40

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RSS-only blog

I've been thinking of a new kind of concept in blogging recently -- an RSS-only blog. It's not because of browser security issues. Nor is it because I'm some kind of nutcase RSS evangelist.

  1. I like the privacy and intimacy of an RSS-only blog -- because the concept is quite novel, there will be only a small number of readers for the RSS feed compared to the larger untamed masses viewing HTML
  2. Right now, only other geeks would read an RSS-only blog which is fine for me since that's my market
  3. I would be able to maintain two kinds of completely segmented readerships -- geek and non-geek -- and this would allow me to tailor content
  4. Feedback from comments would have to be separate from the content in the form of a separate forum
  5. Search functionality would also have to be separate from the content -- it would be maintained on third-party sites like bloglines.com
  6. An RSS-only blog requires a reader to make the active decision to leave the blog and to take the action to unsubscribe from it -- so it is slightly more difficult to lose RSS readers compared to HTML blogs
  7. An RSS-only blog has no URLs -- so no one can link to individual entries and no one can make cross-references to earlier entries
  8. The RSS feed would have to carry the full content -- no more "more" links
  9. An RSS only blog lets you focus far more on content and neglect appearance -- this would put a premium on thoughtful posts and not on frequency of updates as it is with HTML blogs
  10. RSS-only blog can be quite attractive for bloggers who have bandwidth problems because it has no bloat
  11. RSS-only blogs will make it difficult to track readership since counter scripts cannot be embedded into them
  12. With upcoming RSS advertising models, you can still make money off of an RSS-only blog
  13. The only thing stopping me right now is that search engines don't index RSS feed content... yet
  14. Readership gain would rely almost completely on the reputation of the author and the brand of the blog because the content would not be as accessible as regular HTML blogs
  15. RSS extensions like feedview would be really useful as one way of previewing the content of a RSS-only blog
  16. Readership gain would crawl unless word of mouth spreads -- and that might very well happen because of the novelty of the concept
  17. Stronger brands will gain readers faster on RSS-only blogs so if Microsoft or Google started one, they would corner the market and draw attention to the concept even if they enter the concept late

News blogs on topics that get outdated and nearly useless quickly and therefore don't need archives would be better suited for an RSS-only blog. If the blog content is opinions and commentary or requires feedback, it might be better not to be RSS-only.

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Definition of Ajax

It's a form of web interactivity using javascript to retrieve and change XML data, but at the same time. Its function is similar to using Flash for interactive purposes. Ajax is the technology being used in Google's Gmail, Orkut and Google Suggest.

http://www.adaptivepath.com/publications/essays/archives/000385.php

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Thursday March 17

PokerRoom.com

I am so addicted to this game right now. I'm still using play money. I lost a few hundred to pay my dues on the first day. And I made it all back today.

http://www.pokerroom.com/

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I kicked the trolls back under the bridge

After all that effort, you will never believe how I got rid of my troll problem!

There was a reader (now ex-) of this blog who had been trying to gain my confidence over the past month. The troll problem started shortly after he'd arrived. I was convinced that somehow he was connected to the trolls. So, over IM, I convinced him that I had upgraded the security of this website. And voila, the next day, the troll problem that had persisted almost daily, suddenly stopped. I don't think he was the troll, but I think he was tipping off his buddies.

Man, some people will do anything just for attention.

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Wednesday March 16

Best of Google Answers: Improving cognitive ability

Because I live in a country (Malaysia) where things are quite laid-back, I'm less exposed to a stimulating environment in which I can exercise my cognitive muscles. So I can actually feel myself slowing down and getting sloppy. That's one of the reasons why the internet helps a lot (and why I've been trying to write longer articles recently). Blogging indepth articles helps to stoke those latent mental muscles. Add THAT to one of the reasons why you should blog!

From a Google Answer question, here are other ways to maximise those grey cells:

  1. Work and live in a stimulating environment
  2. Listen to the right music (clinical studies show that apparently Mozart helps)
  3. Learn a musical instrument
  4. Engage more often in high-capacity mental activity like reading, playing chess or learning a new language
  5. Eat right -- nutrition helps to make sure all the neurons are firing
  6. Engage in physical exercise -- a well trained body lets the mind focus
  7. Sleep right
  8. Play more Unreal Tournament! -- apparently well-toned hand-eye coordination is also a form of mental exercise
  9. Take the right drugs -- drugs that help patients with alzheimer's or dementia help improve mental abilities but are not available over the counter
  10. Tell lots of lies -- (I added this one) if mental exercises help then telling long complex bluffs is the best form of mental exercise I know!

http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=381459

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10 New Voices

So the blogosphere needs to diversify because there are too many A-list bloggers who are white American males. So one solution is to try to get every blogger to introduce 10 new blogger to their readers who are not white American males. Oh wait, there are other conditions too. The list must include five women, at least three non-Americans and no white males. It's an admirable initiative. But this idea assumes that the blogosphere only blogs in English and doesn't take into account that most of the bloggers in the world blog in a language other than English.

http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/buzz/archives/004489.html

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Pure CSS image rollover (and flicker free too)

I've always wanted to use CSS image rollovers, but they have a flicker because the browser requires a split-second to download the rollover image when you mouseover. This technique downloads the first image and the rollover image at the same time. It places the first image over the rollover image using z-index and makes the first image transparent whenever you mouseover. Very nice and very effective, but also very bloated CSS.

http://webreference.com/programming/css_flicker/index.html

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greasemonkey

Greasemonkey is a Firefox extension which lets you to add bits of DHTML ("user scripts") to any webpage to change it's behavior. In much the same way that user CSS lets you take control of a webpage's style, user scripts let you easily control any aspect of a webpage's design or interaction.

They have dozens of scripts already for installing. I use the one that re-writes the links on Google Images to go straight to the full-size image when you click on the thumbnail. I can't wait for the Fark script that makes all content invisible in the comments except for links to boobies.

http://greasemonkey.mozdev.org/

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Placesite.com

Placesite is an online community project by Berkeley students that lets wifi cafe users chat with the other people on the same wifi network. This is not a software that you can download and install on your own. The Berkeley students have to custom-install it for you (it's a work-in-progress) and you need to get one of their special USD60 routers.

http://placesite.com/

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Pearl

Ever notice that people who tell you to be more humble are also the ones who have nothing worth being proud of? They won't understand till they've got what it takes.

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Tuesday March 15

Netfirms and Yahoo drop domain names below USD5 benchmark

They're practically giving domain names away for free to win more hosting customers. The Netfirms offer comes with a 25mb hosting space and a single domain name email account. So it's targeting people who don't need scripting like small businesses and Blogger-users. Yahoo seems to be targetting a more diversified market. Although it says its offer is for small businesses, it gives no hosting space. It is offering a full DNS Management interface that will let you create domain name email services with companies like everyone.net and it is also targetting the domain-squatting market with its holding-page offer.

http://www.netfirms.com/domain-names USD4.95

http://smallbusiness.yahoo.com/domains/feat.php USD4.98

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Monday March 14

Blog CMS Upgrade

For the people taking the RSS feed, sorry about the mess. I just upgraded my CMS and it is more powerful with extra security and customisation features. But it republished the whole feed and that’s why you got all 20 all over again and only the first couple of paragraphs of each. I’m making a couple of fixes. You won’t see the changes the new CMS makes because they’re all admin level improvements. Sorry.

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Dealing with misdirected visitors on weblogs

Have you ever had the kind of unwanted visitors come to your weblog via search engine queries that aren’t actually mutually beneficial? For example, if you made a joke about a p*rn star and suddenly you’re getting a thousand extra hits a day looking for “p*rn”. The visitors have been misdirected and are probably looking for something that’s not actually on your site. The problem is, it drives your bandwidth usage up, it clogs up your site statistics and your counter gets bloated for less than worthwhile hits.

The usual way of dealing with this is to either delete or close the entry or else edit the entry so it doesn’t have the keywords that are misdirecting the visitors. Either way your unwanted visitors are making you change your content. And that’s not good.

If you know of a site that’s probably more useful to these visitors, then here’s what you can do. Automatically redirect them using javascript. For example, when I got too many hits for “Paris Hilt*n” after I posted a commentary about the phone book fiasco, I embeded a javascript that automatically redirects them to a site that I think would be more useful to the visitors (parishilt*n.com).

This javascript works for all weblog softwares. Just copy and paste it in the entry at the beginning of it. (If you are using Blogger, place it at the end of the entry or else you may get redirected out of your Blogger interface and get yourself effectively locked out of your account.)

Edit the URL you want to send your misdirected visitors too. For the best effect, make sure that your counter script comes AFTER your blog entries, and not before. Otherwise your unwanted visitors still get logged. Depending on how much content that loads before your entries, you can save quite a lot of bandwidth because the misdirected visitors can get redirected away before all your content is loaded and your bandwidth is wasted.

Of course this ensures that no one can read your entry after that. But at least your unwanted visitors have a place to go rather than stay on your site and feel frustrated that you weren’t able to help them.

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