New Sidebar Feature – Tag Cloud (sort of)

Most blog systems support tags these days. Put simply, tags are just words that can be used to create informal groups of posts. Tags aren’t as rigidly defined as categories, and so a ramble that covers many topics can have many tags. The purpose of the tags is to allow folks like you to find similar stuff. Since moving to WordPress I’ve started to pay more attention to tags, and at the bottom of each episode you can find a link or three to episodes with similar tags. It’s kind of cool, and it’s search-engine friendly.

Now I have added a widget to the sidebar that provides a ‘tag cloud’ — a list of the tags with the most-used tags in larger font. (I think this is a misuse of ‘cloud’, which in this context is also supposed to show relationships. A true cloud would group tags by how often they are used together.) There are much fancier tag cloud widgets out there, but I was starting to spend way too much time investigating the options. I settled on a nice, simple, colorful widget which is over there now. It’s called “ILW Colorful Tag Cloud” (or something like that). There are a few aesthetic tweaks I’d like to make, like condensing the text, but that shouldn’t be too much trouble.

The widgit’s all right, but the colors are arbitrarily set by me. It would be cool if the colors actually meant something. Since the number of times a tag is used is already represented in the font size, color could be used to show relationships or (better yet) indicate how many times a tag has been clicked. That way the tags more people found interesting would be highlighted.

Another minor problem with the tag cloud as it stands is that most of the 1200 episodes I created with my old blog system have no tags. I’ve gone back to retrofit tags on a few obvious ones, but overall most of this blog is untagged.

But no, not today. No widget modifications, and no more tag retrofitting. I’ve already spent far too much time on this silly feature.

Programming Note

I’ve put in a new anti-spam layer in the comments. It’s supposed to nip spam in the bud before it even reaches the spam-catcher I already have in place. Almost no spam has been getting through to your eyes, but behind the scenes the comments have been building up, and this should simplify administration of the site. In addition the new spam layer helps prevent robots from scraping email addresses off the site and other antisocial behavior (not that I will depend on that stuff). The name of the Plugin is “Bad Behavior”, for those who might want to try it out.

The system uses a variety of techniques that are supposed to be completely invisible to you, but please let me know if you have any trouble leaving comments. My email address is addy

Programming Note: Polls!

I was trying to decide how to spell a word I coined while talking about the preposterometer, and I decided to turn to you, the viewing audience, to get your thoughts on the matter. That required that I finally get polls working.

In fact, there are two polls going on right now, one about spelling and one about how the polls themselves should operate. The widget instructions indicated that I’d be able to show both at once, but the setting just doesn’t seem to be there. Instead, you get one or the other randomly.

While I had the hood up I made the sidebar headers stronger, to help people sort through the long list of stuff over there. It’s definitely more useful, but somehow it doesn’t seem right to me yet. Also, I set up so I can highlight parts of the sidebar with new stuff going on (the current color will not be my final choice, I think). Let me know what you think about any of the changes!

Programming Note: Sweetness

Sometimes I write an episode that I’m particularly pleased with, only to have it greeted by the sound of crickets chirping. It’s possible that while people enjoyed reading it, they didn’t have anything to add afterward, so there are no comments. That’s what I tell myself, anyway. Soon we’ll put that assertion to the test. The results may prove depressing, but I am experimenting with a feature that will allow readers to say “I liked that episode” without actually leaving a comment.

There are definitely some aesthetic issues to resolve, but there is now an option to vote on episodes you like. It’s not a big deal, just a way for you to say, “thanks, Jer, for sharing your genius with us on the topic of the proper way to belch after a meal.” Or whatever world-shaking topic I’ve chosen to tackle in a particular episode. Don’t be shy out there, if you like lots of episodes, feel free to shower me with kudos! Really!

After I get the episode-voting in, I intend to add a similar system for comments, so when someone leaves a particularly good comment the rest of the blogcomm can clap. If no one ever votes for any of my episodes, I will cry silent bitter tears and remove the feature.

Ratings System Thingie

I have turned on a new Haloscan feature that allows you to rate the blog episodes here. Honestly I don’t know if such a feature makes sense in this context, but I thought we could give it a try together. I have a feeling that most episodes (like this one) won’t really inspire readers to give it a score, and I’m pretty sure that I won’t want ratings on the fiction episodes and the like.

But what the heck. It’s free.

Edited to Add: I voted, then when I reloaded the page, it showed no ratings again. If anyone loads the page and sees a rating, could you mention that in the comments? Thanks!

Also note that the ratings thingies are the very last thing on the page to load. That might take a while on a slow connection.

Edited again to add: I have tried to put the ratings thingie in manually, rather than depending on the automatic implementation by Haloscan. We will see if it can remember votes now, and this way I can also control where the ratings show up a little better.

Another Programming Note

I don’t know if you guys care in the least, but I thought I’d try a poll service that won’t inflict pop-up windows on you. This one has some nice features, the two best being that I can link pictures into answer options automatically and I can include an “other” option so you guys can record your own ideas. I think there’s also a way to make a page that shows the results of all past polls, which would be fun.

On the down side, I would have to pay for the service to allow ballot box stuffing, and the HTML they generate pretty much sucks. I’m fiddling with my own CSS-based layout, so the things may be funky sometimes as I tweak it.

Let me know what you think!

Programming Note

It has come to my attention that after my travels I have photos of many of the guest poets appearing on this page. It wasn’t a big reach to go from there to putting the picture of the author next to the poem. If you are a guest poet and would rather NOT have your picture next to the poem, or if there is another picture you would prefer I use, just let me know.

Currently I’m missing pictures of Melinda and Brian. I would love to put you up there, however, so please send me a picture of you that can be cropped square. I have put in suitable substitutes for the time being (heh, heh, heh…). Let me know if you find a mistake – I could easily have made a typo and the code currently assumes the order the browser will execute the JavaScript functions. If it executes in the wrong sequence I expect someone else’s picture will appear next to my explanatory haiku.

I also have figured out how to fit the limericks in the header more nicely, and I’ll get to that in the next couple of days – so bring on those 5-line poems!

Programming note: Recent Comments!

Unfortunately, the list of the last ten is as much as haloscan provides in the RSS feed. Most days there are many more than ten new comments, so you’ll still have to look around, I’m afraid. I do wish you could bring up all the comments in a single window the way I can, but alas, it is just not to be.

My ultimate goal is to provide a list of the entries most recently commented upon, instead of just the comments themselves, but that, alas, will require considerable effort on my part unless Haloscan decides to help me out.

Anyway, enjoy! I’ll be working on the formatting over the next few days.

Be careful what you ask for…

Why looky over there! It’s a poll! Just like pL asked for. Well, except for the dumb question. I decided since it’s free, what the heck, I’d give it a try. Unfortunately Pollhost does not think stuffing the ballot box is cricket, so at most you can vote once a day. Remember, it’s not just a right, it’s a responsibility.

I’ll try to come up with a new question every week or so. Whenever the whim catches me, really. If you have ideas for a poll question, let me know! If you think polls are a frivolous waste of valuable Internet resources, well, be sure to let me know that, too.


This is what happens when inspiration strikes in the middle of the night. Well, I haven’t gone and read over what I wrote last night, so I hope it’s not too incomprehensible. I’ll clean it up shortly. Last thing I remember was typing “Sweet Saints of Symmetry, Batman!” There’s a phrase you’ll be able to search on in a few days.

I’m looking into a couple of comment-related features for this site that might be possible. One is to have links on the right-hand side to the blog entries with the ten most recent comments. By the way, I’m pretty sure if you have a news reader you can get a list of the ten most recent comments by pointing it at If anyone tries it, let me know if it works. You can also use a news reader to check the blog itself. I’m told that going and checking for updates vis the Web is so 1990’s. I just tried it and it seems… OK.

One more thing – the limit on comments will soon be raised to 3000 characters. Get your typin’ fingers ready!

OK, off to fix the worst of that Whacked-Out, Nut-Assed post from last night.

Now Playing

Kind of a slick little thing, if I do say so myself. Useless, but slick. I wrote a script to update the blog with the current song that is playing on my Powerbook.

There may still be some kinks to work out, and if I’m not on the Internet obviously it won’t update. If I remember to shut off the music first, an appropriate message should display.

Right now I’m just playing randomly through the small portion of my music that’s not in a box to be shipped to Prague. What are you listening to?

As long as I’m discussing the sidebar, I added the “Cool Robot of the Week” link over there only to realize that the weeks apparently ended last November. Get a good look at it while you can, I’ll be taking it back off soon.

A Note About Site Meter

I like it. I like it a little too much. Sometimes I reload the page to see if the number has gone up. As in golf, the rare success carries you over much disappointment.

I have it trained to not count me, which means it may not count other roadrunner customers either. So if you’re on roadrunner and you’ve hit the site fortyleven times in the last few days, My statistics are blown. Still, as of this writing, there are 24 confirmed visits to the blog by people who aren’t me.

The counter has a “traffic prediction” feature which I just know will come in handy. You know, so I can, uh, justify my advertising rates. Yeah, that’s it.

Interestingly, when you walk across the Internet, you are not walking in sand, your footprints to be washed away with the next tide. You are walking in plaster of paris; it’s soft and receptive but it doesn’t forget. I worry that this is going to be creepy for you guys, and if it is I’ll remove the counter, but for me it’s great fun. If you click on the number over there you will see the same statistics that I see. At least I think you will.

For instance, today someone who had his or her computer set to Western Australia Time dropped by because of a trackback link I left over at Haloscan. He looked at the main page, and didn’t click any links. Not that there was any reason for him to do so unless a category name caught his fancy.

The stats never show enough to pin down the exact person, but with a little knowledge (now, just who could it be at And Bob, don’t you have better things to be doing while you’re at work?) you can make a pretty good guess.

So, like I said, if this bugs you I’ll stop, or if you don’t mind me seeing the stats but don’t want the whole damn world to know I can fix it that way as well. I just thought you would find it interesting to know just what THEY know about every page you load.

Damn! I didn’t want to end this on a paranoid angle. I like seeing who’s visited, and I have no current plans to use the information for nefarious purposes. But anyway, it’s you guy’s call.

Under Construction

Tweaking the appearance of the blog, so things will probably be ugly ugly ugly off and on today.

Well, not done tweaking yet, but I’m done for now. I think I need to improver the contrast of some parts.

I added a web counter to see how many people visit this blog. Not sure I’ll be able to take the disappointment.

Comments Enabled

Free is my favorite price.

Please take a moment to tell me how to say “two beers” below!

About ready to hit the road

Except for the fact that I am completely unprepared for the move, I’m pretty excited about getting Jer’s Homeless Tour underway. I’ll try to put regular updates here, but I’m not going to put endless minutiae here just to hear myself talk. Or so I promise now.

I have instructions around here somewhere telling me how to add reader comments to iBlog, so at some point I’ll try to get that going, along with Lots of work to do there as well.