Category Archives: Commentary

Some Tips for Webmasters

I’ve been sick for the past week, which means that in between naps (and other, less savory aspects of the flu) I’ve been able to dedicate some time to catching up on my data entry. (An important tip: make sure your freezer is full before you get sick. Preferably with a variety – I am so tired of chicken.)

As always, I was quite impressed by the number and variety of events out there. A con chair who’s been running the same con with the same programming year after year could do many worse things than to dig around on some other con’s sites looking for ideas. (Along with the voice actors, did you know anime cons will frequently book a show’s director? Would that appeal to your attendees? I saw Harve Bennett at Farpoint [SF/Media] a few years ago and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house after his story about Ingrid Bergman.)

What also surprised me though was the number of events where the web site is either missing basic information, or else makes it hard to find. Consider these bloopers:

  • One convention prominently announces their 2009 dates on the home page. Updates dated 2009 list new guests. And as of July of 2009, the artwork in all the page banners still refers to the 2008 event. So is the con defunct? Or is the web site just out of date?
  • This one happens way too often: The home page announces the upcoming event’s guests, location, and everything you could possibly want to know except the dates. Sometimes they’re buried five clicks deep on the site, but if you want potential attendees to work that hard to find your dates, you’d better have something they really desperately want to see.
  • A similar problem: “Well, we know where we’re located.” A convention will list their venue as something such as “The Airport Marriott” and neglect to mention what particular town that would be in. (Lots of airports have a Marriott.) Sometimes you can get this information by visiting the hotel page and clicking the link to the hotel’s web site, but often that link is missing too.
  • One big blooper: throwing away your Google hits. Just this morning, I found a con where they had done something very right. They had tons of big name guests, all in their core genre; they were listed prominently in a very selective, well-respected convention list (Mine is no where near as high-profile); and the web site is simply exquisite. Unfortunately, all of the site content lives in image files. Google can’t read image files and since they didn’t include any alternate text, Google won’t return any search results for their guests. An opportunity squandered. (As a side note, for US-based conventions, this also opens you up to possible litigation since people with visual disabilities won’t be able to read your site, even with the appropriate assistive technologies.)

Star Trek

I had an opportunity to see the new Star Trek movie on Thursday evening.

Going in, I had some misgivings about the movie. I knew it was going to be the original Enterprise crew, I’d heard it would be the story of the TOS crew first coming together, and I’d heard Leonard Nimoy would be reprising the role of Spock. The concern with this is that over the past 43 years, Star Trek has a lot of established continuity. Throwing that to the wind would upset a lot of fans. (Putting new actors in familiar roles was a concern as well, though I think Star Trek: Phase II – formerly New Voyages – has demonstrated that this can work.)

J.J. Abrams managed to have his cake and eat it too. Hardcore TOS fans may very well be disappointed by the way the plot is resolved; but by doing the unthinkable this movie does open the door for new adventures in the TOS timeframe without breaking continuity. What’s more, new and casual fans may become interested in both new stories and the existing ones.

Among the things that struck me about the movie:

  • This is a much grittier universe than we’ve ever see. The newly launched Enterprise is all shiny, but what we see of other ships and Federation facilities look a lot more lived in.
  • In the past, all we ever saw of any starship was a room with four walls, a floor and a ceiling. The ships in this movie have actual superstructure.
  • This was a much different style of film making with tight close-ups of faces and shaking cameras. Even the shots of the Enterprise were all close-ups.

Amusing Irony

I’m somewhat amused by this: One area con has an ad on their home page, advertising one of my competitors. The ad isn’t served up dynamically, and I have no reason to believe it’s a paid ad. (To be fair, the competitor’s site is a darn site prettier than mine and has content beyond the list of events.)

Not knowing the thought process involved, I won’t debate the wisdom of using your home page to serve up an ad that’s going to take people to another site.

But I can’t help thinking, if Convention X is going to put a link to a convention list on their home page (potentially sending people to other conventions), wouldn’t it make sense to link to a convention list that actually includes Convention X?

So what can you do if your favorite convention doesn’t appear on my list? Tell me the event details and there’s a good chance I’ll add it. (I’m rather pleased by my site’s reputation for listing smaller, local events in addition to the bigger name cons that everyone already knows about it. I’ll probably draw the line at My Little Pony events, though to be fair, I do list G.I. Joe cons, so you never know…)

And what if your event is already listed but some of the details have changed or incorrect? (The latter of course, that never happens. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) Drop me a line with the details of what’s changed and I’ll update it.

That way, maybe some of the traffic your site sends away will come back. 🙂

What Happened to the Ads?

You may have noticed that Google ads have been disappearing from my site. I took them out of the convention list pages about a week ago, and removed them from the blog just a few minutes ago.

I’ve had Google ads on the site for the past five years. The initial intent was mainly so I could look at the ad statistics and find out how many people were viewing the site (with JavaScript turned on) as opposed to the various bots which just scrape the pages. There was also a fantasy that perhaps I’d generate enough ad revenue that the site would pay for itself.

The ad revenue never really amounted to much of anything and although some of the ads were relevant, an awful lot of them weren’t. Most people visiting the site were looking for things related to various fandoms, a lot of the ads were for hotels and convention centers, not necessarily in the same cities as the conventions. And then there were the rather “spammy” ads for alleged weight loss programs.

The final straw came a couple weeks ago. Google announced that they were changing the way the ads worked. Instead of just making them (allegedly) relevant to the page content, they were going to track the sites you visited and base the ads on the type of sites you visited.

OK, sure, that way the ads are more interesting to you, and perhaps you’re more likely to click them that way. But having a company track my movements for marketing purposes just feels icky. And to make it worse, not only did you have to explicitly opt out, but Google made it the content owner’s responsibility to notify you (via a privacy property you’d probably never look for) of Google’s actions.

So, I’m removing the ads. I do feel that content owners deserve to be compensated for their work, but I think Google crossed a line.

How Will It End?

Battlestar Galactica ended last week. The final episode isn’t available on Hulu yet — so I haven’t seen past Daybreak part I — but I’m left wondering about a massive knot of loose threads. (How did Kara get resurrected? What’s with Baltar’s visions? Are they representatives of a third type of cylons?)

I expect they’re going to rescue Hera and defeat the “bad” cylons. And I strongly suspect the Galactica will be destroyed in the process. But doing all that in a satisfactory way, and finding a place for humanity to live (even if it’s just going back to the colonies) — all in a single hour….

That’s really tough to swallow.

I can’t help thinking they’re either setting up for a (made for TV) movie, or else the final scene will be Zack stepping out of the shower and the last four years have all been Kara’s dream.

Netflix Streaming Doctor Who

I seem to be on another of my Doctor Who kicks. 🙂

Working my way through Season 4 of Doctor Who, I paused after watching “The Stolen Earth.” Time to take a break and savor the show rather than rush through the final episodes and then wait indefinitely for Season Five to come out.

So in the meantime, I went digging through the Netflix list of episodes and discovered that seasons two and three are now available for streaming. (Season one has been available for at least six months.)

Since I’m in midst of watching Rose return, it seemed only natural to go back to the end of season two when she left. While I’m going back and watching the previous seasons, I’ve also made a point of watching the great chase scene from “The Runaway Bride” and Sarah Jane’s life-altering discovery of the T.A.R.D.I.S. in the closet in “School Reunion.”

I haven’t seen “Blink” since before it won the Hugo. So tonight, along with possibly updating the convention list, this may be a good time to remedy that. (Am I alone in thinking “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead” would be a good candidate for another Hugo? I just love the portrayal of The Doctor’s future relationship with Professor Song and how that’s impacted by his time travel. I wouldn’t mind seeing future seasons touch on that thread.)

Broadband is wonderful.

Google Loses its Glitter

Starship Farragut premiered their two new “Crew Logs” mini-episodes today. I’d been planning to attend the premier and post a short review of the new episodes, but my plans didn’t quite work out.

In a rather infamous incident six years ago, I got lost on my way to Ocean City. It was my first-ever time going there and in the end, it took me six hours versus the three it took my friends. I have no doubt that the directions MapQuest gave me were accurate, but they involved following a number of unmarked back roads. I haven’t used MapQuest since.

For the past several years, I’ve been using Google Maps without significant problems. I’ve been increasingly concerned about Google lately though. They’ve been rolling out a variety of new features (e.g. Street Views), but it appears the core mapping system is suffering from a lack of attention. Two months ago, I discovered a park which in reality is just a couple miles up the road was supposedly located on the other side of the county. More recently, a street which had been labeled correctly for the past five years suddenly had all of its street numbers reversed (I truly hope that no Emergency Services use Google for anything important.)

Today was strike three for Google Maps. I knew the Farragut premier was at the University of Maryland’s Hoff Theater, but never having been there, I needed directions. Not to worry though, I visited Google Maps, typed in “Hoff Theater” and Google quickly popped up a set of directions. All was good. Or so I thought.

The route from Google dropped me into the middle of a residential neighborhood, with no theaters of any sort, just a “hole in the wall” restaurant, a couple nearby gas stations, and a whole heck of a lot of houses.

I don’t blame the Farragut folks for this. Heck, I probably shouldn’t blame Google either. Instead, I should have looked around on the University of Maryland’s web site to see if they had directions. The worst of it is, from my previous experiences, I should have known better than to trust Google.

By the time I got myself sorted out, it was already 4:30 and by my reckoning, the Starship Farragut event was likely halfway over. On my way out, I spotted a sign for the University of Maryland campus, but by then I didn’t see much point.

Hopefully the Farragut Crew Logs were well-received. I’m looking forward to seeing them.

But for now, I need to find a better source of maps.

Trekkies Will Buy Anything that says Star Trek…

A craft project for a rainy afternoon.


  • A transparent light switchplate or outlet cover. You can probably find them at a craft store or possibly a hardware store. They’re generally sold with the idea that you put a piece of wallpaper inside so that you’ll have a wallplate which matches your wallpaper.
  • Your imagination

The steps:

  1. Using your favorite graphics program, create an LCARS display the same size and shape as the wallplate. Be sure to leave a blank area the size and shape of the hole(s) in the wallplate. This will be your insert for the wallplate.
  2. Print out your insert and using a sharp pair of scissors, or an X-acto knife, cut out the holes to match the wallplate.
  3. Install the wallplate on the appropriate wall switch or power outlet.

Total cost, less than $5.

Or, you can visit Think Geek and buy the same thing for $17.99 plus shipping, thus proving the somewhat cynical claim that Trekkies will buy absolutely anything if you put the words “Star Trek” on it. But hey, the Think Geek version is “Made by Eugene ‘Rod’ Roddenberry” and therefore qualifies as licensed merchandise.

Full Disclosure: About 15 years ago, in the dealers room of a local con, I bought both a switch plate and an outlet cover with LCARS-style graphics on them. So on the one hand, yeah, apparently I’m that much of a geek. On the other hand, my two wallplates combined cost less than $20….

Deja Vu

I’m not entirely certain why I decided to rent Deja Vu. I don’t have anything against the Murder-Mystery or Drama genres, but the description from Netflix wasn’t something that would normally seize my attention: Déjà vu — that powerful but fleeting sense that you’ve been here, or met someone, before. ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) finds himself dogged by that feeling as he investigates a bombing on a New Orleans ferry. Should he shrug off the unsettling sensation, or can it help him unravel the clues he needs to save hundreds of innocent people from disaster?

It’s a fairly accurate description, but not the sort of thing that would usually get my attention. For whatever reason, I decided to take a chance on it and added the movie to my rental queue.

The movie started off slowly, but that didn’t last long. Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington’s character) is an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms who is assigned to investigate the bombing of a ferry in New Orleans. His talent for quickly figuring out the details of the bombing is recognized by an FBI team assigned to the case and they recruit him to help out.

The surveillance technology being used by the FBI is the first Sci-Fi twist to the movie, but the plot twist has its own twist that results in the storyline doubling back on itself. The resolution is a little bit of a cliché, but done in such a way that it’s quite enjoyable and even the loose ends you hadn’t thought of end up being tied-up.

By Google’s Command

I’m a bit embarrassed I hadn’t noticed this before.

The icon for Google’s new Chrome web browser features a sort of beach-ball thing with a circle in the middle. It looks a little like a robotic eye.

Chrome eye.

They’ve included that eye in the logo on the download page.

Chrome eye.

On the new Battlestar Galactica, the human-appearing cylons are frequently referred to as “skin jobs.” The more classically robotic centurions are occasionally referred to as “chrome jobs.” These so called “chrome jobs” have only one eye.

One eye. Robotic. Chrome.

Do you suppose Google is being run by Cylons?