Launching something new

A couple of months ago I relaunched my photoblog at BridgeCity.ca.  My photos have always been popular on Flickr (more than a couple million views) but I wanted some place to pull out and highlight certain ones about Saskatoon.  When I saw www.bridgecity.ca was available, I bought it, found a template, and started to upload a photo or two a day to it.

This site averages 1000 visitors a day who view on average about 5 posts each time they stop by.  The site has a large archive and benefits from a decade of people linking to it.  I didn’t expect 1000 hits a day but I was really disappointed when I launched Bridge City and didn’t even get a single hit some days.  Now a couple of months later traffic is holding steady at about 175 hits a day and growing.  Here is what I learned during this.

  1. Use Google Webmaster Tools:  This isn’t going to get you any hits but does tell you if Google is indexing your site which is really all you can ask for.  It will also give you an idea of what people are searching for.  Also use Bing Webmaster Tools.  To be honest the amount of traffic I get from Bing is nothing compared to what I get from Google but some people still use it and Yahoo! Search so you might as well incorporate it into your site.
  2. Figure out how Google Image Search worked.  Google has no idea what those images I was posting to my site are.  They rely on the words in the attribute tag and the words I am using on the site to describe what I am posting.  I had images on Flickr that had gotten thousands of hits but only 1 hit on Bridge City.  The difference was that I described what the image was well on Flickr and had not on Bridge City.  When I changed that, Google figured out what the subject was and suddenly ignored content was found.
  3. I don’t rely on SEO very much but I do use a plugin in WordPress to see what Google thinks it is seeing and then I do my best to accurately describe what it should be seeing.  Huffington Post has perfected this but often uses misleading headlines and descriptions to drive traffic.  I want accurate titles and descriptions so that people can find what they are looking for.
  4. The hardest part has been tagging the photos.  Do I call that building office or commercial?  Did I call others like it a restaurant or a pub?  Is it a pub or a bar?
  5. Do I link to the business?  I try to.  It’s a site about what I think is cool and interesting about Saskatoon.  Since I am using business names in titles, I tend to put a link back to the business or organization.  That way if people are looking for something, with a click they can find it.  I have also learned that some businesses have websites that are hard to find.  If I can give it a good link, it helps them too.
  6. There are some boring neighbourhoods in this city.  You can see where I tend to spend my time by the categories and the tags at the bottom of each page but there are some parts of the city that really have nothing interesting to photograph (I am looking at you Westview, Montgomery, and Wildwood)  It speaks of some really poor neighbourhood design.
  7. Most of the shots are on foot.  Wendy and I will park the car somewhere and go for a neighbourhood stroll.  Since I take a lot of shots of schools, we generally go on the weekend so as to not freak out parents, teachers, police, RCMP, Interpol, the Department of Homeland Security… you know, those kinds of people.
  8. Some officers from the Saskatoon Police Service has taken a mild interest in what I have been doing.  One time Wendy and I were kind of trespassing near the tracks by the grain terminals and a couple of cops wandered down to see what we were up to.  When they saw we have cameras their concern wandered off an instead they questioned me on the lens I was using.  The same thing happened downtown when I was ask, “Is it actually focusing on things”.  I then explained aperture to the officers who actually took some notes.  I find that so far the cops have been far more interested in mine and Wendy’s difference in cameras than what we are doing.  They actually remind me of cops in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston who seemed to be drawn to the guy with the camera and had opinions on what to photograph than anything.
  9. Thank you to the City of Saskatoon for posting this neighbourhood map.  It the official arbiter of what neighbourhoods are called and where the boundaries are.  More than one time I have sent someone to it and heard back, “I could have sworn that X was part of Y neighbourhood”.  I’ve done it myself.
  10. A lot of buildings downtown are double and even triple attributed by reputable sources to the same architect.  I have brought this up to a couple of developers who all said, “I know”. It’s been fun looking back at contradictory archival data as well.  I don’t think we will ever know for sure.
  11. I don’t get this but architectural websites don’t always list their own works.  I have a feeling that there probably was some strong disagreements during design or construction and the architect more or less washes his or her hands of the project but it makes it hard to track down who created the project.  Winnipeg has a building database.  I wish we had one in Saskatoon.  If for no reason than to help celebrate some of the great architects in our cities history.  Hopefully a project like this will happen when Saskatoon finally gets a school of architecture.
  12. I wish the public and separate school boards would publish a list of architects of their schools.  These are tremendously important to our community and so little is known of them.  Either that or I am going to have to do it.

The five most popular posts are

  1. Affinity Campus
  2. 2nd Avenue Lofts
  3. Irene & Leslie Dube Centre for Mental Health
  4. John Deere Building
  5. Nuit Blanche

I am biased but there are my two favourites.

  1. Taking a selfie
  2. 2014 PotashCorp International Fringe Festival

MSN Messenger to end after 15 years

Here is the BBC Obit

MSN Messenger was a hard-working internet visionary which taught a generation to touch-type and lol, writes BBC technology reporter Dave Lee.

It touched the lives of millions of teenagers who, in an age before real social networking, were just getting accustomed to what it was like to live on the internet.

MSN Messenger heralded a new era: a time when chatting up a classmate no longer meant the terrifying prospect of actually having to say something to them.

It meant no longer would young teens have to endure the torture of ringing the landline number of their newest crush – knowing there was a high probability that dad would pick up.

But after all the “ASL?”s and “u there?”s, Messenger’s loyal subjects became less dependent. “I’ll brb”, people said… but they never did.

Other sites, smarter and better looking, would see Messenger cast aside. In an age of exciting digital discovery, Messenger became the web’s wooden toy.

After a long career, it spent its final year enjoying a comfortable retirement in China. Its less well-regarded relative, Windows Messenger, still battles on on work computers the world over.

“It’s like MSN,” office workers say, “…just not as fun.”

MSN Messenger is survived by Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Snapchat, Skype, Google+ and Instagram.

Lessons Learned

A couple of years ago my Gmail acct was accessed by someone in Hungary.  I am not sure how they got in but I changed my password immediately.  I lost several thousand email messages.  I implemented a difficult to type and guess password, used two step authentication and started to change up my passwords frequently.

Over time I got careless.  I hated two step authentication and instead of a hard to type password, I used a much easier one.  A sports team.

A couple of weeks ago I realized that I had become careless and “calgaryflames” was not a good password for my email.  I saw this post by Khoi Vinh and realized that I needed to up my game but never got around to it.

Yesterday on the 5:15 p.m. Saskatoon Afternoon roundtable, I mentioned that I was a Calgary Flames fan and realized that I needed to change my password again.

As I got home last night, people asked me if I was deleting tweets.  I wasn’t and decided to see what was going on and I could see tweets disappearing in front of my eyes.  My first thought was that Twitter was having a server error but then I realized that no, they were being deleted rapidly.  I tried to log into Twitter and could not.  That wasn’t good.

I checked my email and that was locked as well.  After getting that unlocked and my old access back, I was able to have my Twitter password sent to me.  

By that time, all of my tweets except for two retweets were gone (those two retweets disappeared last night).  At the same time I realized that my blog was hacked as was two other social networks.

I have backups of my blog and I restored that database.  By that time I kind of noticed emails were missing.  Basically some of the messages that I had that were filtered a certain way were deleted.  It also looks like some searches were done and then the messages were deleted.  I have asked Google to see if I can get those back but from what I have read, they are gone.

Gmail does log IP addresses that log into the service but those are dead ends.  When I searched them, they lead to an anonymous offshore IP service that hides IP addresses.  You know if case you have to hack someone’s account.   If you searched for “password” in my email account, that would have given you all of my passwords or the ability reset passwords.  That is what screwed things up for me and gave them the keys to other services.

Everyone wants to know if it was just random or if someone was looking for something.  I don’t really know but my feeling is that they hacked the password, looked around, saw a lot of boring stuff, deleted some crap, and left once I started to freeze and re-access somethings.

Did they find anything interesting?  No.  Things I hold in confidence are actually stripped of identifying information and forwarded to a secure account.  Traces of which are deleted from my email system.  So what they found are social media passwords (doh!), XS Cargo flyers (yawn) and recommendations from Amazon on what I need to read next.  

So to avoid this from happening to you, here are the steps you need to do to keep your data safe.

  • Set up two-step authentication on all accounts that provide it
  • Use Diceware to create secure passwords for all your email accounts
  • Create a unique email address for your most valuable log-ins
  • Use a good password utility to create unique, strong passwords for every site you visit
  • Create fake security-question answers
  • Freeze your accounts with all three credit agencies
  • Don’t let Web sites store your credit card info
  • Hide your Who-is listings if you own your own domains
  • Set up WPA-2 encryption on your wifi router
  • Never click links in email
  • Prepare ahead of time for identity theft or hacking

How Digg is trying to replace Google Reader

I never got into Digg but I admire it’s resilience 

Look, the Internet is made of fast. You go fast or you die. But lost in the Clouds of bullshit and hype there’s this true thing: The internet is a technology that can connect us instantaneously to all sorts of information. That instant access lets us learn and connect and transact in entirely new ways. It’s what drives everything online–from I need to know about the Peloponnesian War right now to who is nearby that will take a couple of bucks for a spot in their back seat, sharing economy, #YOLO. It’s just impossibly fast. Even so, few things move faster than they do at the new Digg. This is the team who, in just six weeks, took a dying brand that collapsed under the weight of its own spam and made it something vibrant and vital: a place you wanted to go.

So in April, when Google announced it was shutting down Google Reader on July 1, it was almost unsurprising that Digg replied–that same day–We’ve got this.

This is the story of how a tiny team took 90 days to pull off the impossible.

Fed up with non-profits, Facebook Cofounder Chris Hughes And Google Are Giving Cash Directly To The Poor

Having seen mismanagement and corruption in some non-profits, I agree with their approach

Paul Niehaus, an assistant professor of economics at UC San Diego and a board member of GiveDirect, came up with the idea of transferring money to poor people’s cell phones back in 2008. He was working with the Indian government to limit corruption and saw how the government there transferred money to people’s phones. “I realized I could do that myself,” Niehaus told me. He told the gathering in San Francisco that most of the money that’s donated to help poor people goes to international development organizations, not poor people directly. GiveDirectly’s giving has had “big impacts on nutrition, education, land and livestock” and “hasn’t been shown to increase how much people drink,” Niehaus emphasized. “A typical poor person is poor not because he is irresponsible, but because he was born in Africa.”

GiveDirectly finds poor households – typically people who live in mud huts with thatched roofs – and uses a system called M-Pesa, run by Vodafone , to transfer money to their cell phones. Transaction fees eat up a mere 3 cents per donated dollar. Niehaus says plenty of recipients use the money to upgrade their homes by adding a metal roof.

Which is why I like to give money through Kiva.

Slate’s Matthew Yglesias says much the same thing in Slate

Poverty is, fundamentally, a lack of money. So doesn’t it make sense that simply delivering cash to poor people can be an effective strategy for alleviating it?

Transferring money to poor Americans has been a much bigger success than most of us realize. When it comes to the global poor—the hundreds of millions of slum-dwellers and subsistence farmers who still populate the world—one might be more skeptical. Perhaps the problems facing these unfortunates are simply too profound and too complex to be addressed by anything other than complicated development schemes. Well, perhaps.

But there’s striking new evidence that helping the truly poor really is as simple as handing them money. Money with no strings attached not only directly raises the living standards of those who receive it, but it also increases hours worked and labor productivity, seemingly laying the groundwork for growth to come.