Monday, February 25, 2013

Building Your Blog: Blogger Vs Wordpress

I've had a couple people ask me how I do some of the elements on my blog. So, for the next little bit, I'm going to blog about blog building. I'm not terribly tech savvy anymore, so I'll keep it simple. We'll see how it goes.

Choosing a Hosting Service
There are two powerhouses in the free blog market: Blogger and Wordpress. In the last year, Tumblr has also muscled into this market. You get nay-sayers on both sides of the isle, but let me give you my impressions of the free sites, then discuss briefly buying a domain.

Blogger is operated by Google and is considered the easiest of the free sites to use. It provides a wide array of layout options. But being the easiest to use, many people consider it a poor hosting site for professionals. Kinda like a bike with training wheels. 1 GB (gigabyte) of image storage space is provided.
Wordpress comes in two flavors: & The .com version is the free side of Wordpress and inserts ads into your blog. The .org side hosts Wordpress' pay to play features. 3 GB (gigabyte) of image storage space is provided.
The main difference, as I understand it, is the code. Wordpress is considered more 'designer friendly,' meaning if you know web design, it's easier to code your own page. Since I haven't written my own html code for almost ten years, I don't know if that's true or not, but it seems to be the general opinion.

Really, with any of the free sites, you'll get about the same service.

I personally went with Blogger because I wanted something simple, and while it has been fairly easy to use, I've still had to spend a LOT of time reading tutorials and trying new things on my blog. But I personally want it to look professional, so I try to push my layout. I've never ran into something that made me regret choosing Blogger. 

Content Ownership
The main disadvantage with blogging on a free site is content ownership. For most free sites, you're going to have to accept the hosting companies Terms of Service. Take, for example, this little clause in the Google terms of service for Blogger:
When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.
What's that mean? Google can use anything you put on your blog to operate, promote, and improve their Services, and to develop new ones. So if you create a new feature for your blog or hire a programmer to design something for your site, Google can take it.

Buying Hosting
Alternatively to free sites, you can buy a domain name and hosting space. Prices are cheap and when you do, the web page and everything in it is yours. But unless you know web design, you'll have to purchase a layout and figure out how to upload your content. There is a little bit of a learning curve, but html is fairly easy to pick up. It just requires the time to learn the language.

My advice? Start off simple with one of the free sites. Then, when you're ready to invest in something more serious, make the change.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mystic City Review

Mystic City
 Buy it at Barnes & Noble
I've been working through a lot of reading recommendations in the past few months. One of these was Mystic City by Theo Lawrence.

Mystic City is the YA dystopia featuring Aria Rose, a young woman with huge gaps in her memory. Aria lives in a world where the oceans have risen and some of the population have developed magical abilities. These mystics are regularly drained of their dangerous energies so their power can be used for the good of the city.

But a dangerous uprising has begun and a new drug is killing people. Will the class warfare between the social elite and the mystics destroy what little world remains?

The Good
The story moves very quickly and cleanly. It's well written and does a great job with a compelling narrative. There's action and romance. The characters are vivid and well done.

The Bad
I've never been a Romeo & Juliet fan and Mystic City is a Romeo & Juliet reboot. All that teenage angst grates on my nerves.

And I don't enjoy love triangles either, but this one is well done because the one guy is such a jerk. It was a easy contest. 

That said, Mystic City is a MUCH better telling of the original tale. Sorry, Mr. Shakespeare.

The Spin
Pick up Mystic City, it's a fun read. Theo did a fantastic job of creating an engaging world. If you like dystopian YA, this one is for you.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Building You Blog: Tag Clouds

Tag Clouds
A tag cloud is widget that is a 'cloud' of text. The text of a tag cloud is comprised to the Labels you've attached to each blog post. The more you've blogged about a certain subject, the larger the label in the cloud.

There are essentially two types of blog clouds that I've found: block text and 3D Flash animated clouds.
Tag Cloud

Block Text Clouds
In a block text cloud, your labels are arranged either alphabetically or by post size. The various options are provided in your template widget.

I'm not familiar enough with Wordpress, but to create a tag cloud in Blogger:
  1. Select Layout
  2. Add a gadget
  3. Select Labels gadget
  4. Choose tag cloud options

Flash Tag Cloud
3D/Flash Animated Clouds
These clouds are a little more complicated to implement, but are more eye catching than the simple block text cloud. Using Flash (an internet animation program), Flash animated clouds swirl the labels like you're actually looking at a 'cloud' of text.

To create a animated cloud, you will have to get into the html code and change it to use the Flash cloud animation. Fortunately there are several sites that walk you through the process of editing the code. And even though this can be a daunting task, if you take it slow, and back-up your code before you experiment, you can end up with a flashy tag cloud.

Try these sites:
How To Add A Label Cloud to Blogger
Blogumus: A Flash Animated Label Cloud for Blogger

Why You May Not Want Them
Tag clouds let your viewers see all the various subjects you blog about. Unfortunately, tag clouds are often seen as big piles of poo cluttering up blogs, as if the author vomited all their topics into a stinking mess on their page.

Usually, viewers will see your tag cloud as a confusing jumble of words and simply ignore it. And you don't want anything on your page that is automatically dismissed by your viewers.

My advice? Don't bother with tag clouds. They clutter up the page and nobody really uses them anyway.   

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Soundtrack of My Life

One of my cousins (Hi Kathy!) posted a comment on Facebook about a year ago, asking readers to post a song from the soundtrack of their lives. I've been giving it a lot of thought since then and boiled it down to this list of twenty-one songs, plus three extra for when I'm feeling a certain mood.

All of these song have some relevance to a particular moment in my life. Some of them were paticularly dark moments and a simple song helped me get through it. The sad thing is that I'm actually worried I've forgotten one that was really important to me.

Ahh... the gray hairs are getting to me.

Besides, something tells me, the longer I live, the longer this list is gonna get.

Without further ado, here is the soundtrack of my life. If you don't know a particular song, click on the link to listen to it on YouTube:
  1. Star Wars Opening Title - John Williams (Star Wars)
  2. The Wishing Song - Gonzo (The Muppet Show)
  3. Believe It or Not (Theme to The Greatest American Hero)
  4. You're Only Human (Second Wind) - Billy Joel
  5. Hip To Be Square - Huey Lewis & The News
  6. Cabaret - Liza Minnelli (Cabaret)
  7. El Paso - Marty Robbins
  8. Everybody Ought to Have A Maid - A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
  9. You Are The One - Mike & The Mechanics
  10. Go The Distance - Hercules Soundtrack
  11. It's Good to be King - Tom Petty
  12. Movin' Out (Anthony's Song) - Billy Joel
  13. Same Old Lang Syne - Dan Fogelberg
  14. Mr. Cellophane - John C. Reilly (Chicago)
  15. Corner Of The Sky - William Katt (Pippin)
  16. Send In The Clowns - Judy Collins
  17. I Am A Rock - Simon & Garfunkel
  18. Fly Me To The Moon - Frank Sinatra
  19. Paperback Writer - The Beatles
  20. White and Nerdy - Weird Al Yankovic
  21. Grow Old With You - Adam Sandler (The Wedding Singer)
Mood Music
You're Everything To Me - George Formby
Cuban Pete - The Mask Soundtrack
Brand New Day - Neil Patrick Harris (Dr. Horrible)

The Flip Side
So, if you could pick any songs from the soundtrack of your life, what would they be? Which songs or artists got you through the dark patches in your life?

If you had to boil your life down to just one song, could you do it?

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