Sunday, March 29, 2009

Molly's Revenge and Enya Revised

It looks like getting another Celtic music lens — Celtic Music: Kim Robertson — published was a good idea to boost the rank of Celtic Music: Lenses. This morning the latter showed up at the number 8 position. That didn't get it on the bottom of everyone's dashboard, however. I think that might be reserved for lenses that are in the top 10 over the previous month. We'll see.

Today I've added Celtic Music: Molly's Revenge. They're a group from California known for their lively performances on stage with bagpipes, guitar, fiddle, whistles, bodhran and vocals. Mostly they perform in California, although they do make it up to Oregon and Washington once or twice a year and have gone farther afield. This past January they performed at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, Scotland. They were joined by Moira Smiley, a vocalist and accordion player who performs with them on occasion and is on their latest album.

Getting the modules for the CDs done went quickly since there are only seven CDs and I'd just worked extensively in the same format yesterday. Often the hardest part of a lens is writing about the performers. Sometimes I've done that first to get it out of the way, but this time I did it last, partly because although I wanted to do a lens about Molly's Revenge, I've never seen them live and don't yet have any of their CDs. They do have videos on YouTube, so I was able to get some feel for their performances, and I thought it was impressive that they'd traveled from California to Scotland for the Celtic Connections event.

This afternoon I got an email from someone in the UK who had visited my Enya video showcase. He said he wasn't able to view any of the videos and wondered if it had anything to do with him being in the UK. I went to the lens and started clicking on the videos. Out of the ten, not one came up. All said they'd been removed from YouTube for copyright reasons. As the visitor said, the lens had lost the very reason for its existence.

While I considered deleting the lens since none of the Celtic music video showcases have ever rated very well, I thought I'd see if there were any Enya videos left on YouTube. At first glance, I saw a bunch that used Enya's music to go with pictures or their own video. Then I spotted the EnyaTV channel, which had added five videos about four months ago. It's got Enya's official OK, so they're probably going to be up for a good long while. When I first called up the channel, I saw a link to another channel called EnyaFanClub, started by someone in Russia. That channel had videos of TV appearances Enya has made. Some of them are songs and some were interviews and documentaries.

I replaced the ten YouTube videos, which I'd done using YouTube Plexo modules to avoid the thumbnails. Plexos allow people to vote, but I wasn't particularly interested in that (and neither were visitors; I don't think anyone ever voted). In their place I used seventeen video modules which have larger screens than the standard YouTube module or the Plexo module.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

New Lens - Celtic Music: Kim Robertson

I probably should have been making new Celtic music lenses ever since my Celtic Music: Lenses lensography got chosen as Lens of the Day for March 16. It's been holding fairly steady at a rank overall of either 12 or 13 since March 19, and was at 17 on March 18. It's the first lens I've ever had in the top 100. My Spoonerisms lens topped out at 114. But I still haven't cracked the top 10 overall on Squidoo.

I know, I shouldn't be greedy, perhaps, but a lens in the top 10 gets listed at the bottom of every lensmaster's Squidoo dashboard - the place where all lenses and their ranks and ratings, etc. are listed, so most people look there frequently if they're on Squidoo. I usually have mine up whenever the computer is on.

Today I made a lens for Celtic harpist Kim Robertson. I have four of her CDs, so it's about time I made a lens for her. A lot of her CDs are on CD Baby, so if anyone buys a CD from their by using my links I'll make a buck per disk.

Kim Robertson has been recording for over 20 years, so there are quite a few CDs listed on the lens. So it took most of the day to get the lens made. I developed some new variations on HTML and CSS code because I needed to get links for, and CD Baby in the same module. I thought it would be easy, but the link buttons kept showing up in strange places or they weren't quite aligned. It took a lot of trial and error to work that out. Once I got that, though, things went quicker.

It would have been nice to put the link buttons in a simple table so they could be evenly spaced across the bottom of each module, but Squidoo has limitations on coding. Tables have to be within a paragraph tag and you can't put one of those inside another.

Once I thought I was done, I published the lens. In order to see what the lens will look like, you have to publish it. A couple of things came up once I'd published. Originally I had the CD title in the module title space and again inside the text box which has a border and background. After publishing, I decided that didn't look right, so I replaced the second title with smaller text that states the recording label name and the year the CD was released. After I'd done that, I got the feeling that I hadn't included all the CDs I own. I checked and I'd only included one, probably because CD Baby doesn't carry any of them and Amazon only stocks one, with the others available through third party sellers. So I had to add them.

Once all that was done, I posted something in SquidU's Critique Me forum. Then I remembered I had to update the Celtic Music: Lenses lens to include the new one. And then, of course, there's this post to do as part of getting the word out.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Squidoo's Star Rating System

Squidoo has a rating system for lenses that allows logged-in people to choose a rating of between one and five stars. Today in the SquidU forum I saw a message from someone who apparently had a lens with some ratings that weren't five stars. So I replied with the following:

There's not a whole lot you can do about ratings other than try to make a good lens. People who visit the lens and rate it do it according to their own thoughts and feelings about a lens. If you look at the popup boxes that tell you what the star ratings mean, you'd see:

1 - I can do better
2 - Jury's out
3 - Pretty darn good
4 - Splendiferous
5 - Awesometastic

If people were rating by those descriptions, there would be a lot more 3 and 4 star ratings. But a culture has developed on Squidoo that highly encourages - you could say practically forces - people to rate with 5 stars or not at all. Within that culture, 4 stars is considered to be not good. Only 5 stars will do.

This is not what the people who developed the star rating system intended.

But not everyone got the memo about "5 stars or nothing," so they'll see a lens they think is pretty good and give it 3 stars. They'll see a lens which is better but not really outstanding and give it 4 stars. They're just being honest, not realizing they're "supposed" to give a lens 5 stars if they rate at all.

The only star rating I can see as honestly being not good is 1 star: "I can do better." 2 is so-so. 3 should be an acceptable rating if you take its description literally. 4 should be high praise and 5 should be reserved for the truly great lenses that people find extremely helpful, informative, useful or entertaining depending on the nature of the lens.

I don't like the "5 stars or nothing" approach that seems to be the norm for Squidoo, but I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, be a party pooper, a curmudgeon, a downer, etc. so I usually do what everyone else does and give 5 stars or none. But that means I rate fewer lenses because I really don't want to give 5 stars to lenses that are fair to good and strictly speaking deserve a 2, 3 or 4 star rating.

If I were to take the star descriptions literally and rate accordingly, people who saw the effects of my less-than-5 ratings would take it as evidence they were doing something wrong or they'd figure someone doesn't like them and is being punitive.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Word of the Day

The word of the day is spoonerism.

Just so happens I have a Squidoo lens about Spoonerisms. I think you'll find it a lot more informative and I hope a lot more fun.

The folks at Squidoo HQ thought enough of it to name it Lens of the Day on November 8, 2008.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pyewackett & Bill Bryson

Yesterday I spent much of the time making a new lens. It was another case of taking off with inspiration to do something. I was making coffee when the theme for the Looney Tunes cartoons started going through my head. Except in this case it wasn't exactly the Looney Tunes theme. That theme is based on the tune "The Merry-go-round Broke Down," written in 1937. The British folk band Pyewackett recorded it on their best known album The Man in the Moon Drinks Claret, released in 1982. That's the version that was in my head.

So I decided to start a lens. I'd considered it before, but the band only released four albums, and they all went out of print. Only The Man in the Moon Drinks Claret has been re-released. That means there's limited opportunity to get people to click on an Amazon link. But yesterday I decided I like the band enough to go ahead and make a lens anyway.

In the course of my wanderings to find out more about Pyewackett, I came across a Facebook group called the Pyewackett Appreciation Society, started by a woman from London. It's not a hugely active group, but three people, two of the musicians plus the guy who called for their dances (and also got the band interested in tunes from John Playford's English Dancing Master published in 1651) are group members. I also found a MySpace page for the band under "pyewacketmusic." That page is apparently run by Ian Blake, one of the band members who now lives in Australia. There's another page related to the name, but it's for a young woman who seems oblivious to the horrible look she has created with a very strong background and purple text which is rendered almost unreadable against the background.

I was suprised to find there is no Wikipedia page for Pyewackett, although there is one for a short-lived Pittsburgh rock band from the '70s that spells the name with one "t". I did manage to find a site that deals in obscure music, and it had cover art with links, so it's OK for me to use the art because it links to the site. That works, since the site is useful. The three other albums are Pyewackett, 7 to Midnight and This Crazy Paradise. The site I linked to is probably the best bet for a collector wanting the LPs (TMitMDC is the only one available on CD).

So, I'd appreciate it if you'd check out my Pyewackett Squidoo lens.

Today I've updated my lens about author Bill Bryson. Bill has written some very funny travel books as well as some very interesting books about the English language, William Shakespeare and a short history about nearly everything called A Short History of Nearly Everything. This update was to make the lens look better and switch the Amazon links from going through Squidoo to linking through my Amazon Associate ID. I've gotten very attached to using text boxes with colored backgrounds and rounded corners for lenses with Amazon books. On this one, I stuck with one color scheme for all the book modules.

Why this particular lens? I noticed in today's lensranking that it's almost but not quite in the top 10,000 lenses. Squidoo has three tiers for sharing their ad revenues with lensmasters. Tier 1 is 1 to 2,000; Tier 2 is 2,001 to 10,000; Tier 3 is 10,001 to somewhere around 100,000. The sharing isn't huge; about $10.00, $2.00 and $.08 respectively. It takes a lot of work to get a lens into Tier 1, certainly more than the payout is worth, but it is nice to have a well-ranked lens.

Which reminds me - Celtic Music: Lenses, which was named Lens of the Day for March 16 and remained listed as such through yesterday, really shot up in the rankings. It was at 106 on Tuesday, got to number 17 yesterday, and is at number 12 today. It's the first time I've had a lens in the top 100. My Spoonerisms lens topped out at 114 back in November. The Celtic Music lens has gotten a ton of comments and has now been rated by 105 people.

I don't think the Celtic Music lens will be in the top 100 all that long, though. There's already been another Lens of the Day named. For a while, they weren't being named that often and I was kind of hoping mine would be in that slot for a week or so. But three days isn't bad when you consider it's called "Lens of the Day."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Second Lens of the Day & Stardance

Just before I got up this morning, I thought I should blog about my newest lens, The Stardance Project. I'll get to that, but first, once I had the computer up and running and pulled up email, I saw things had taken an unexpected turn. I noticed in the Squidoo folder that I had a whole bunch of comments, many more than the usual one or two I might see. Even with over 100 lenses, I don't get comments every day.

The first one was about my Celtic Music: Lenses lens, congratulating me on it being named Lens of the Day. Well, flabber my gast! I wasn't expecting that for a couple of reasons:
  1. I'd gotten a Lens of the Day back on November 8, 2008 for my Spoonerisms lens.
  2. I really haven't done much with the lens for a while, although I had redone it a few months ago.
On giving it a little thought, I suppose St. Patrick's Day has a lot to do with the lens being chosen, even though many of the performers aren't Irish. I also thought that this was a lens for which I'd put quite a bit of effort, using several coding tricks I'd picked up from other lensmasters: borders, background, drop caps and photo placement. I couldn't use the standard photo spot for text modules because of the borders and backgrounds because the standard placement puts the photo on the right margin but not quite at the top, so the border looks bad. So I had to drop the photos in using code.

Needless to say, it's an honor to get one Lens of the Day. To get two in such a relatively short time is amazing. I'm hoping that lots of people will take a look at the lens, but even more, I'm hoping they will go on and visit my other Celtic music lenses and discover more about Irish, Scottish and related music. One of the links close to the top of the lens is for the lensography I made for the series of lenses I did for Maggie's Music, so here's hoping that drives a bit of traffic to those lenses as well.

Speaking of St. Patrick's Day, will be doing live broadcasts starting at 10 in the morning Dublin time. (That means 3 in the morning for me out here on the Left Coast!)

Find more videos like this on liveIreland

Yesterday I published a lens for The Stardance Project, something Jeanne Robinson, wife of science fiction author Spider Robinson, has been working on. Jeanne was a dancer who not only did contemporary dance, she also was the founder and artistic director of the Nova Dance Company in Halifax, Nova Scotia from 1980 to 1987. She was the inspiration for Spider to start writing the novella "Stardance."

Spider usually writes alone, although when Jeanne saw a couple of things about dance that needed correcting, he made the corrections. When she commented about the main character, saying, "Shara wouldn't do that," he was all ready to rebut her, then realized she was right. "Pull up a chair," he said as he added her name to the byline. Check out the lens and the links on it for more about Stardance. It's fascinating and I hope the movie gets made.

A lot of the stuff on the lens was originally on the one I'd done for Spider. I've been revising that a bit at a time lately, adding backgrounds and using links to Amazon that go through my Amazon Associates ID. When I got to the part about the Stardance books, I realized all the info about the Stardance Project really belonged in its own lens. I went ahead and made the changes to the modules on the Spider lens, then when I started the Stardance lens it was fairly simple to copy things over. In the process, I made some changes and added more information.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Almost West Virginia

"Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River"

Those are the first two lines of John Denver's hit "Take Me Home, Country Roads," written by Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert and Denver and appearing on Denver's 1971 album Poems, Prayers and Promises. Both the song and the album were hits for Denver. The song reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It's Denver's signature tune. I've seen West Virginia license plates with "Almost Heaven" on them. It's the theme song of West Virginia University and has been performed before every home football game since 1972.

Most people, myself included until now, never seem to realize there's a couple of things wrong with the first two lines of the song:

1) The Blue Ridge Mountains are not in West Virginia. They are in Virginia and North Carolina. The northern part of the range is east of the Shenandoah River.

2) The Shenandoah River is mostly in Virginia, just to the west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. While it is true that the last 15 miles of the river (approximately) flow through the very easternmost part of the northeast panhandle of West Virginia to Harper's Ferry, the river is almost entirely in Virginia, as is the scenic valley people sing about. Most of the river is 25 to 40 miles east of West Virginia.

I really like maps, so I was a little surprised when I realized the geography in the song was a bit off. I only realized it when I was looking at my lens DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer Series. I discovered a rather embarrassing typo in a module title. I'd typed "West Virginai" and hadn't noticed it for months. While I was fixing it, Denver's song started running through my head. I remember really liking it back when it came out. Suddenly it hit me: "Wait a minute! Blue Ridge Mountains? Shenandoah River? They're in Virginia, not West Virginia."

That's when I got out my Rand McNally Road Atlas (I don't have DeLorme's Virginia or West Virginia atlases) and confirmed the locations of the mountains and the river, and when I saw that a part of the river is in a part of West Virginia that is closer to Philadelphia, PA than Charleston, the capital of West Virginia.

The duo of Danoff and Nivert were known as "Fat City" when they and Denver got together to work on the song. The duo later went on to form the Starland Vocal Band, known for their hit "Afternoon Delight" from 1976. The band had a six-week summer replacement show, replacing the Mary Tyler Moore Show spinoff Rhoda.

Also on that show were Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman, who are half of the Firesign Theatre. I've been a big fan of the Firesign Theatre since 1973, a year when I really needed something to laugh about. It was only while looking up stuff related to the song and its writers that I realized the connection.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New Lens, New Books

On Sunday morning, I saw an email from Amazon about their software deals of the week. I decided it might be interesting to try making a Squidoo lens for it and update it each Sunday. Some of the deals are pretty decent, with discounts up to 50% and more. I put the first item in an Amazon Spotlight module. The rest I put into related groups and used the regular Amazon module. A couple of items were available both on CD and as downloads, so I put links for the download version into the descriptions.

I'll try this out for a while and see if it goes anywhere. I decided to keep things pretty simple by using the regular Amazon modules instead of the text modules with the coding I've developed for books, which I use on the Best Sellers list I update either late Friday nights or on Saturdays.

That list, by the way, was a bit of a challenge this last time because seven out of the fifteen books were new and required blurbs and new color choices for the backgrounds. After a book's first week on the list, all I have to do is change the numbers and move them around.

On one of my visits to I saw book covers for new books by Allen Steele and Nevada Barr. Allen Steele's newest is Coyote Horizon, released March 3, so I went to my Allen Steele lens and added it. When I went looking for information beyond the short blurb at Amazon, I found out Steele now has a website for the Coyote series. But neither Steele's own site or the new one had more information like a review that I could use to write my own blurb, so I ended up just taking the Amazon blurb and rewording it.

I'll have to get the book soon, although I'm in the middle of rereading Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series. Still, I probably should take a break from that and read something else occasionally.

Nevada Barr's Borderline will be out on April 7. This one is set in Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas on the Rio Grande. Barr really puts Anna Pigeon through a lot. Even when Anna goes on a vacation trip with her husband, she can't catch a break. After all the gruesome stuff she went through on Isle Royale in Winter Study, she was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. It's not surprising considering all she went through not only in that book but in the previous ones as well. To me it seems things just get harder and harder for Anna with each new book, so PTSD is not unusual.

By the way, notice how the book images are indented from the left and right margins? It's because I'm getting the images from Amazon using "Save image location." Amazon puts its products in a square white box. Books, of course, are not square, so they end up indented. I did an earlier post about how that affects my Squidoo lenses when I want to use colored backgrounds and book images together.

Here's links to Coyote Horizon and Borderline:

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Changing the Phone Service

I probably should have done this a year ago at least, but today I switched to Vonage from my AT&T cell phone. Vonage's modem usually costs $79.99, but when I went to their site yesterday I saw they had a big rebate of $70.00. For all I know, that could be an ongoing thing, but $9.99 seemed like a pretty decent deal.

Earlier today I checked a few places online: Best Buy, Office Depot, Staples and Office Max. Only Best Buy showed they were selling the modem, but they didn't show a rebate. Then I decided to go to a Best Buy and see if the store offered the rebate. It did, and it was an instant rebate, so I bought one. I probably should have just bought the unit without activating, because I think I might've done better activating online, but I'll go with what I've got. An unlimited plan is $15.00 cheaper per month than AT&T, plus I get to call five European countries, including the UK and Ireland at no extra charge.

I'm not sure this will lead to increased phone use, other than perhaps calling in to LiveIreland to make a request when I'm listening and there's a DJ in the studio, but we'll see. Of course, I decided to do this and calling Ireland may have to wait a while because Klara McDonnell, who usually does a show Mondays from 6 to 8 pm Dublin time, won't be there. She's off on a visit to London.

My phone number isn't changing because I'm porting the number over from AT&T. If anyone calls it'll still ring on the cell phone until the number ports, so I shouldn't be out of touch. Not that I'm really in touch by phone, since often my monthly usage doesn't get out of the single digits.