Friday, January 30, 2009

New Squidoo Lens for Stan Freberg

While reading posts in the SquidU forum this morning, I saw that a Squidooer going by Not-Pop mentioned a lens he did about the old Harry Belafonte hit "The Banana Boat Song." I was immediately reminded of Stan Freberg's parody of it and went to Not-Pop's lens to see if he'd included it. He hadn't, so I went to YouTube to see if there was a video.

There were two. One was just the audio with a photo of a banana-shaped boat. The other was considerably more creative. Someone who likes Japanese anime had taken clips and matched the characters' mouths and mostly their actions to the straight audio of Freberg's song. It was very well done, even adding to the humor in spots.

So I went back to the post and started a reply, linking to the anime version. I was almost ready to post it when it struck me that while I'd done several lenses a few months ago on novelty songs, I hadn't done one for Stan Freberg. I don't know why, since there appeared to be plenty of videos featuring his parodies on YouTube. So I started a Stan Freberg Video Showcase lens, then added a note to the post with a link to the lens and let folks know it would be "coming soon to a computer screen near you."

I checked a few places on the web to get some background on Freberg. One thing I never knew was he's the son of a minister. For some reason I'd always thought he was Jewish, probably because of the "berg" ending to his surname and his association with Hollywood.

I also learned he'd been one of the puppeteers, along with Daws Butler, on the very old children's TV show Time for Beany. I remember watching that and remembered Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent. Daws Butler I remembered from watching Hanna-Barbera cartoons like Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound. I also remember Daws Butler because I'd read he'd used humor to get over a fear of speaking in public, and I'd just signed up for a public speaking course in high school. I took his advice, and it worked.

I had fun choosing ten videos to use in the lens. Since Freberg's hit song parodies and commercials largely came before video was easy to record and keep, some of the videos just feature the audio with a shot of a record player playing a record. The anime one was probably the most creative. But I had fun with writing little blurbs for the record player videos explaining how this was how we listened to our personal music collections in the days before iPods. I also added some info about the recordings. Of course, I added some CDs from Amazon.

It's published now, so if you click on Stan Freberg Video Showcase, you should see it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Why Did I Do a Lens about Adrienne Barbeau?

Late last week I was reading posts in the SquidU forums and came across a discussion about people who make barebones lenses and then never touch them again. Someone mentioned a guy who made 75 lenses, mostly using the SquidWho format, about celebrities. Squidoo says you can make a lens in five minutes, and this guy took them at their word. When a lens is started using SquidWho, the lens is automatically populated with very basic stuff like a one-line intro module, an abstract from Wikipedia, some related stuff found on and presented as thumbnails (the least informative way to present Amazon stuff), and a basic and rather insipid poll, among other things. For his lenses, that's all this guy has.

I looked at a bunch of his lenses, and found that his top-ranked lens was a typical quickie about Adrienne Barbeau. I had heard of her, but she's never been in big blockbuster movies. She was on Broadway as Rizzo in Grease, spent six years playing the divorced daughter on the TV series Maude, and has had roles in a number of horror and science fiction films, including cult classics like The Fog, Escape from New York, Swamp Thing, Creepshow, and the wonderfully-titled Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. More recently she was a snake charmer in HBO's two-season Carnivàle. She's been a guest on a whole lot of TV shows, and she's still, at 63, very active with several projects lined up for this year and beyond. I think I recalled she was in Maude, but I hadn't paid a lot of attention to her, not being a big movie and TV buff.

Then I happened to notice something about that barebones lens: its lensrank on Squidoo. It was higher, in the mid-3,000 range, than my Spoonerisms lens. It was only a small difference in lensrank, but it really bothered me. Here was a nothing lens with no original content, only a very few star ratings, outranking my lens which has 115 high star ratings, was Lens of the Day in November, was a runnerup in the Humor category of the 2008 Giant Squid Awards, and has tons of content I wrote myself.

I guess that means that a minimal lens about a Hollywood celebrity, especially one known to males the world over for her bust (and if that's all they know about her, they are really missing out - there is much more to her), can beat a lens on another subject in which someone has invested a lot of time and creativity. Unfortunate, but that's the way the world works.

I looked around on Squidoo, and there were no other lenses about Adrienne Barbeau, so I decided to make a real lens about her, one with real content, not just predigested pap. I initially figured I could put something together in about an hour or so. There might not be a whole lot there, but even in an hour I figured I could make a lens that would blow the other one out of the water.

Funny thing about that. As I started looking up stuff about Adrienne Barbeau, I got really interested in what she's been doing since she got into show business. I was amused by the movie title Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. There's something about the word "avocado" in that title that gives it an extra kick. As I expected, the movie is a spoof. It's known for it's takes feminism, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars. I learned that Ms. Barbeau has been a consistent and extremely versitile performer. She's had many roles since the early 1970s, something one would not expect from someone relying on her bust size, which she obviously hasn't done.

The lens soon became more than just a simple, though better, example of a lens about a celebrity. I wrote content about her career, based on Wikipedia and the Internet Movie Database. At first I was going to use the standard Amazon module to feature five movies. It would have the regular small graphic of the DVD cover, and I'd write a line or two about the film. But then I decided, no, I'll use the text module with a much larger graphic, write more than a line or two, and make my usual text links to and In the end, I featured the HBO series Carnivàle, three movies, her self-titled CD (from CD Baby - I'm an affiliate with them), her autobiography (Amazon and an audiobook from CD Baby) and her novel Vampyres of Hollywood, co-written with Michael Scott. I also added a poll, a couple of interview videosm an image (another place where I'm an affiliate) and an RSS news feed.

Even without the videos, books, CD, poll and news feed, I spent about three hours or so on the lens on Friday night. It's still less than 72 hours since I first published the lens, but it's already ranking about 13,000 on Squidoo. Google doesn't seem to have found it yet. I hope they will soon because that should give it a boost. I spent more time over the weekend and even this morning (that's when I found out about the CD Baby items). I've submitted it to Digg, StumbleUpon, and other networking sites.

I'm going to be interested in seeing what becomes of this lens. Who knows? Maybe I've been on the wrong track and should just put up a bunch of celebrity lenses.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Druff the Magic Pagan

"Druff the Magic Pagan sieved by the lea..."

So begins my Spoonerized version of Peter Paul and Mary's "Puff the Magic Dragon." The version has been added to my Squidoo lens on Spoonerisms. The song got into my head recently, and as often happens, I began Spoonerizing it as I went through the lyrics I could remember. The lens has been slipping a bit in the ranks lately, so I figured maybe this will give it a bit of a boost. I'll be happy if I can keep it above 2,000 for the rest of January because that'll mean it'll make several bucks more when the January payout comes in early March.

For that module, I used the cover of the book Puff the Magic Dragon and made the cover a link to, plus I included text links to and (The cover shown here links to

In other news, the Bushisms Video Showcase helped get my visits to all lenses in one week to over 1,000 for the first time, and currently it's just below 1200. There are people on Squidoo who get more weekly visits than that for just one lens. The lens is at #602 overall on Squidoo and $6 in News & Politics.

I'd certainly like more traffic overall, not just in that one lens, and to help boost it, I spent some time submitting lenses to Squidoo groups and a site called Some groups accept stuff right away, others take a while for the groupmasters to look at them. Submissions to Squoogle appear to be still pending. Without the Bushisms lens, I'd have 739 visits for the past week. That number is a rolling total that changes several times a day.

I updated the Best Sellers lens this morning based on the list from The New York Times. That lens has been staying fairly high on my own list of lenses, and has been in the top 10,000 at least since November.

CheckI've mentioned being surprised at the popularity of the Bushisms lens. Another surprise over the past few weeks has been the popularity of my How to Write a Check lens. It's one I put together July 30 after reading some lens challenge ideas put out by Squidoo founder Seth Godin. It's very different from all my other lenses and for a while just puttered around in the middle of my listings, then started rising as Google and Yahoo started sending traffic.

Sometimes I wonder how people find stuff on search engines when they're obviously a bit challenged in the spelling department. Five people have done searches for "how to right a check." The British spell it "checque" and I have a couple of tags with that spelling, but I'm not going to include spellings searched by people who can't spell.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bushisms Video Showcase

Although I consider myself to be considerably left of center politically, I haven't been very political on Squidoo. Offhand, I can only think of three lenses that can be considered political. One is my Molly Ivins lens. She wrote a lot about politics and wrote three books with co-author Lou Dubose about Dubya. I also have a lens for Tom Tomorrow, aka Dan Perkins, who does the weekly comic This Modern World.

The first politically-oriented lens was one I created six days after joining Squidoo, the Bushisms Video Showcase. I didn't do much with it once I created it, and several times I thought about deleting it simply because so much of what I do with Squidoo is non-political I didn't want to risk offending potential viewers of my lenses. It was a lens done by a newcomer to Squidoo, and to my now-experienced eye, it certainly looked like one. It has a short intro with a title that's a quote from Dubya:

"One of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror."

There were 12 thumbnails that link to YouTube videos. There are now only 10 - oops, make that 9 - because after checking the videos for the first time in a long while, I found #10 and #12 had been taken off YouTube (While updating the lens, now I find #4 is gone as well - it was there about 20 minutes previously). They were in a module called a "voting plexo." Plexo is a made-up word for something that allows visitors to a lens to vote on items in a list. Only five of the 12 videos had ever been voted on in over a year, and each one only got one vote each. I can't remember whether they were my votes or not. When people vote in these things, the items with the most votes go to the head of the list. People don't seem to be interested in voting, but then again, I haven't pushed it.

Recently, the lens has been climbing in lensrank on Squidoo, and currently it is my fourth-highest-ranked lens out of 109. That appears to be mostly because it's gotten a lot of visits lately. Apparently people want a last look at Bush's frequent manglings of logic and the English language. Nobody has ever rated the lens by clicking on the stars at the top of the lens, and that's for a lens that has been around over 14 months. The next highest-ranked lens with no stars is #54 on my list.

I was taking a look at the stats for the lens, and noticed something interesting. One of the reffering sites is listed as "". So I took a look there. I entered "Bushisms videos" and looked at the results. It wasn't the first item. After the sponsored listings, it was the sixth:

Bushisms Video Showcase
The 43rd President of the United States has always had a way with words. Whether
it's a way a president should have is open to debate.

Yep, that's my lens, listed along with the first two sentences in the intro module.

I don't know how significant that is, although I thought it was interesting that it even appeared at all on CNN. The stats only show four referals from there. By far most of the traffic is coming from Google with some from Yahoo. My lens is #1 for a Google search of "Bushisms video" and #8 on Yahoo (it's #7 on Yahoo and #6 on Google if you add an "s" to "video"). In the past seven days, 239 out of 255 visits have been from Google.

Considering how little I've done to improve the lens, and how little promotion I've done for it - virtually none - it's been surprising to see this lens ranking so well.

OK, now having written this entry, I've decided (and here, I'm the decider!) to revise the lens by putting the nine surviving videos in their own video modules so they can be viewed without leaving the lens. That does away with voting, but overall on Squidoo, I haven't seen too much activity with voting unless the lens was built specifically for that purpose. I didn't look for new videos to replace the three that were taken off YouTube. My stats show most people who view videos from the lens only look at four or five, so nine is more than enough.

Feel free to visit the Bushisms Video Showcase. Who knows, you might even want to rate it.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

New Look for Best Sellers Lens

After updating the Best Sellers lens this morning, I decided to change it a bit for a better look and more flexibility. The other day when I was in the Chatter Box forum in SquidU, I learned of a Firefox extension called Affiliator which creates links very easily from Amazon product pages. All I have to do to create a link is go to the product page, right click, and choose to save the code to the clipboard. Then I just paste it in at the appropriate place in the lens module. It's quicker and creates a much more compact code that the "link to this page" link creates through Amazon Associates.

The person who told me about it also mentioned saving a link for the product graphic - book cover, CD cover, etc. I decided I wanted to make that graphic a link, and since I already have the code for that saved, it was just a matter of figuring out how to put it all together.

In addition, I try to include a link to when possible. Affiliator only works for, I think, so I have to use the regular text links from That actually saves me some time in converting a lens because I already have that code. Also, since I have the code, there's not much sense in going back and replacing it even if Affiliator does work with That needs checking out, because on new lenses using Affiliator with would be quicker if it works. I'd just have to make a one-digit change in my affiliate ID.

Since I was replacing 15 modules, it made sense to set up the code in a Notepad++ file so I could just copy it into each module, and also so I'd have the code for adding new books to the Best Seller lens in the future. This is what I came up with:

HTML FROM TEXT LINK(img src="BOOK IMAGE FROM AMAZON" style="float: right; margin: 0px 0px 10px 10px; border=" /)(/a)(b)First Time on the List(/b)



(I changed the <> to parentheses so the blog software doesn't try to use the code.)

For the Best Seller entries, I have a line that indicates a book's position on the list the previous week and the number of weeks on the list. For new books, it's always "First Time on the List," but for this updating I had to be sure to change that. For use with other lenses, I just have to cut that line out.

I right click on the product page, copy the code, then replace "TEXT LINK FROM AFFILIATOR" with it. Next I copy only the part from (a href= to the ) before the book title and paste it over "HTML FROM TEXT LINK" to make the image a link. Next, I right click on the image on the Amazon page and "Copy Image Location." That gets pasted over "BOOK IMAGE FROM AMAZON." Next I copy the book blurb text and past it over "NEW BOOK BLURB." Then I copy the link code and paste it over "AMAZON.CO.UK TEXT LINK."

The one tricky part comes if the image I copy from Amazon has "Click to look inside" on it, which many book images have. I looked at the code and found the image is really two images, with the "Click to look inside" and the arrow being a separate image. I tried cutting out what I thought was code for that, and got it right on the second try. I made sure I put that bit of code in my instructions for using this whole thing because if I don't work on lenses all the time, it's easy to forget details.

This is what an entry looks like except for the font, minus the book title headline and author name subhead which are outside the text box:

Last Week: 1 - Weeks on the List: 5

Private forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta travels from her home in Charleston, South Carolina to New York City at the request of the NYPD. An injured man in the psychiatric prison ward of Bellevue Hospital has specifically asked for her, and when she arrives, he tells her a bizarre tale of torture and murder. His injuries, he says, are the result of a murder, but he did not commit it. The investigation leads Scarpetta, her husband and her niece on a harrowing chase through cyberspace and city streets.

Scarpetta (Kay Scarpetta) from
Scarpetta from

If you put your mouse over the titles or the book cover, you'll see they're real links, so if you want to do a little shopping on Amazon, you've got a place to start. :)

The Affiliator extension for Firefox is considered experimental by Mozilla, so I had to register in order to get access to it, but it's free and worth the effort.

Later on, I decided to see if I had to do any serious alterations to make the code work on an ordinary lens. I chose to make over my lens for author Eric Larson. All I had to do was cut out the line about the book's position on the best seller list. By the way, I'd appreciate it if you'd take a look at that lens. It's been kind of lonely.

This should work on music lenses as well. I doubt I'll go in for converting every lens I have because that runs into over a thousand items, the result of over a year of making lenses. When I make text links with Affiliator or just make them using the code generated by the Amazon Affiliates site, all the commission goes from Amazon directly to me. Squidoo doesn't get the cut they get when I use their Amazon modules. Squidoo won't get as much from me as they might otherwise, but since I don't plan on converting all my existing lenses, they'll still get something, including their share of ad revenue from all of my lenses, whether I convert the modules or not.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Several Squidoo Things

A few things have been happening, or perhaps not happening, since my last post. One thing that didn't happen anywhere near when I thought it would was the delivery of the CDs from Maggie's Music. There was a slight address discrepancy. It took UPS over 48 hours to rectify that, which they did late Tuesday night last week. But for some reason they couldn't get it into a Wednesday delivery. Thursday was New Years Day, so it wasn't until Friday that the package finally arrived. Even then there was one last bit of complication. When the person delivered it, he or she didn't ring my doorbell or knock on the door. The box was just left in front of the door with the doormat draped over it. Since I'd already checked my mail that day and didn't plan on going out, it wasn't until about an hour and a half later that I checked the UPS website to track the package and it said "Delivered" with a time. I had visions of never seeing the package since I didn't know it was out there, but it was. (That's Bonnie Rideout in the picture, btw.)

The nice thing about getting the package is listening to all the wonderful music. I knew the package was, according to UPS, seven pounds. I found out that works out to 30 CDs. I haven't listened to all of them yet, but so far there isn't one I don't like. There were several Christmas-themed CDs, but I listened to them before the 12 days of Christmas were up.

After I got all the Maggie's Music lenses done, all 16 of them, I was able to go back and finally finish up a lens for Portland Celtic harpist and singer Elizabeth Nicholson. Her music is mostly available through CD Baby, so I used text modules and CD Baby graphic links, plus text links for those CDs available from Amazon, both .com and

I first saw her playing solo in a little corner spot at Portland Saturday Market in 2000. I remember wondering if Loreena McKennitt started like that. I bought her CD, which was titled The Lulling Hour, although now I see the one she's offering under that title has a different lineup of tunes.

I'd also gotten the idea that I really needed to make a lens for Irish singer Mary Black, as a result of hearing her music on, so I got started on that. She's released a fair number of CDs over the past 25 years or so. I used the Amazon Spotlight module, which puts each CD in its own separate module, so I was able to intersperse a few video modules throughout the lens. I guess the big push to get out all those Maggie's Music lenses slowed me down a bit. I didn't commit myself to finishing the lens in one day as I often have. Instead I spent a couple of days populating the spotlight modules, writing a bit of text for each one in addition to putting in the track listings. Then I got a bit hung up on what to write for the introduction module, something I often leave until the end because often I learn stuff while filling in the info for each CD and finding suitable videos.

Yesterday I decided to sign up with Tagfoot, a social bookmarking site that seems to be attracting other good lensmasters. I did that after spending several hours going through all the Maggie's Music lenses and getting them submitted to Delicious, Digg, Facebook, StumbleUpon and YahooBuzz by using the Shareaholic extension in Firefox. So my first project with Tagfoot was to list all the Maggie's Music lenses.

Today I was listening to LiveIreland and in the chatroom when someone there mentioned Julie Fowlis, a Scots Gaelic singer from North Uist in the Hebrides Islands. She's got a new CD out with three other folks, two of them from the Irish group Danú (one of them is her husband Eamon Doorley). At first all I wanted to do was add the new CD, Dual. Then I saw she'd come out with a 3-disc version of her previous album Cuilidh, so I had to add that. I also decided at first to switch from the regular Amazon module to spotlights, but then it occurred to me that I could use plain text modules with CD covers from Amazon along with text links to and

The advantage to doing that is I don't split commissions with Squidoo. I'm not sure if that means I might go back and start changing other lenses. That would certainly take a whole lot of time, and given how many people click to Amazon and actually buy something, I don't think it should be a really high priority.