Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Old Song and Dance

Victor Herbert, Composer
OK, well, the song, anyway.

I was chatting today with a good friend of mine, Tom Petiet, whom I had met through the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce (he and I are both in the Ambassadors group together). In his day-job, Tom is the designer and illustrator extraordinaire behind Concept Studio, a local commercial arts services firm. In his free time, though (and I do mean all of his free time), he is the managing director of Ann Arbor's Comic Opera Guild.

It turns out that the COG has a production next weekend. For anyone who's been a part of a stage production, you know that things are pretty much at their craziest right now. Tom did take some time, though to let me know what was going on. I thought I would let everyone know the details, just in case any of you might be interested.

They're performing a concert presentation of "The Fortune Teller" by Victor Herbert (the same composer who brought us "Babes in Toyland"). They'll be holding the shows on February 8th and 9th at 8pm both nights. The venue is a little outside of Ann Arbor, but well within reason, as they'll be at the The Village Theater, 50400 Cherry Hill Road in Canton, MI. You can check out the theater website for purchasing tickets. Tom said that the shows will very likely sell out, so if you are interested, you might want to pre-order now.

I'm not an aficionado of light opera (though I do enjoy it), but apparently this is a pretty special showing as, according to the COG website, this will be the first time in over a half a century that any group has performed this work in its entirety. I guess it's pretty unusual for classics like this to be revived. So, if you are in the mood for music, fun, and comedy, be sure to check out "The Fortune Teller" next weekend.

So, what was the last stage performance you attended? When was that?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Silly Phone Fun

Have you ever had a phone message that you really wanted to keep? Maybe it was your family singing happy birthday to you, maybe some friends telling you that they were officially engaged, or maybe it was a bizarre message for your cats from your delightful sister-in-law -- letting them know that she would bring the tequila and catnip. Whatever the message, it sure would be nice to be able to save those moments for posterity, wouldn't it?

Well, I figured a way. Oh, sure I could have hit the play button and held some sort of audio recorder up to the answering machine speaker (of course, that doesn't work so well if your voicemail is somewhere else), but I decided to go the technical route.

As I've written before, my cell phone is the LG enV. It's a nice phone with a ton of features. One of the more unusual ones in my book is the ability to record your phone call. OK, to be more accurate, you can record the other person's half of the phone call. I actually made use of this feature last year when I was making my video about Bruce Tegner. I found one of his students and performed an interview, recording his responses with the cell phone.

So this time what I did was call my voicemail and play back the messages while the cell phone was in record mode. After I had the audio on the cell, it was a simple matter to email it to myself, edit out the unnecessary parts (using Audacity, a great audio editing package I've written about before), then convert it to MP3 format (again with Audacity), and save it on my audio player.

Yes, this is the kind of thing that techno-nerds do when we are left to our own devices.

So, have you explored all of the fun tricks your phone can do?

Speaking of fun tricks, read about another one in my most recent ezine issue. Heck, with such great information, you might even want to subscribe!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Thank You for Thinking of Me, But...

Seth Godin had a great post yesterday about the simple practice of checking before forwarding. The basic gist is that, before you blindly forward things along to your entire mailing list, you owe it to everyone on that list to verify the truth of what you are sending along.


I receive forwarded messages all the time from friends and family members. Some are jokes, some are just cute messages or cartoons. I'm pretty much fine by that, so long as it doesn't get excessive. What really gets me all cranky is when someone forwards along a message which promulgates a particular political, religious, or philosophical viewpoint. Often I don't actually share these viewpoints and equally as often, the messages upon which they are based turn out to be false.

Here are a couple of rules that I think would help clarify the email atmosphere:

  1. As Seth suggested, before you forward a message, go to the Snopes site and verify its veracity. Even if you think you can't find it there, check anyway, especially if the story is supposed to be true.
  2. Always add a personal note as to why I might find this worth reading/viewing. Even if it's only that you found it cute or funny. I appreciate that you want to share, but I want to know your feelings about the message at hand.
  3. Construct the recipient list for each individual message and as you do so, at least pause for a moment as you add each recipient and ask yourself the question "Would they really appreciate seeing this?" If you don't know for sure, then I would err on the side of not sending it.
  4. Understand that if you don't follow these rules, and if the falsehood is egregious enough, I will have no compunction about responding to the entire group about what the real story is. After all, I looked it up on Snopes. At the minimum, I will at least respond to you and leave it to your discretion to reveal your gullibility to your original victims.
OK, I'm going to get down from my soapbox now before I fall off. My apologies to any whom I've offended, but this one just really gets my goat.

So, have you checked out the Snopes site? What did you look up?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Talkin' Trackbacks, Part 4: One More Tool

I mentioned yesterday that I had a better tool to do outgoing trackbacks. It will only work, though, for people who are using Blogger and are using Firefox (and why would you be using any other browser??).

The tool is a script written by Stephen Weber of Singpolyma. It uses the Greasemonkey add-on for Firefox. OK, I'm sure I saw some eyes glazing over out there, so if you would like to try this excellent tool, just do the following:

  1. First check to make sure that you are running Firefox. If you are running Internet Explorer, you can't use this tool. See yesterday's post about Haloscan
  2. Install Greasemonkey. Go to the Firefox add-on site, and click on the "Install Now" link. If it pops up any dialogs, just click "OK" or "Yes" or "Allow" or whatever you need to to make things continue running. At the end of this step you may need to restart Firefox. After you do, come back here for the remainder of the step. Remember this is the Jan 28, 2008 posting in the "Clearing up the Confusion" blog. I'll wait while you do this.
  3. OK, still waiting.
  4. Huh, he must have gone off to get a sandwich or something. Oh, well, for those of you who returned, now you just need to install the script.
  5. Go to Stephen's blog. Be patient. his blog seems to be a bit slow to load.
  6. Click on the "Install the new script" link. Again, click on the "OK"/"Yes"/"Allow" buttons.
  7. I don't think you have to restart Firefox again, but feel free to do so if it makes you feel better.
Now whenever you go to post a new entry on your blog, you will see a new entry field right under the title of the post. When you want to do a trackback, you just paste the trackback URL into that spot. When you publish the entry, the trackback engine will do its thing without any further intervention from you.

Oh, the first time you try a trackback with this tool, it will ask you for your ID. If you have one, feel free to enter it. It will give you a one-click link to post your new entry on the social bookmarking site, Or hit "cancel" and it should stop pestering you about it.

Well, I hope these last few posts have gotten you excited about the possibilities for using trackbacks with your blog. If you do decide to give it a try, let me know what you think and whether it was worth the trouble.

So, have you tried out any of the other add-ons for Firefox?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Talkin' Trackbacks, Part 3: The Tools

So, if you read through parts one and two of this series, you might be getting pretty excited about exploring the world of trackbacks. If you are blogging using WordPress or MovableType, then you are in luck as the trackback facility is already available to you. You might have to go into your blog settings to enable it, but otherwise, you're golden.

But what about the rest of us? Many of us are using Blogger, one of the most popular blogging systems available and it doesn't support trackbacks natively (it has a feature called "backlinks" which is similar, but as I've mentioned before, I haven't noticed too many other people using it and it is only available to other Blogger users). Still, if you look at the bottom of this post, you'll see that I do have a trackback link. How is that possible?

In a word: Haloscan

Haloscan is a service which manages comments and trackbacks for blogs which don't have those features natively. The basic service is free (though it does include advertising), but for only $12, you can get their premium service which is ad-free.

Sign-up is easy. The form doesn't even really request that much information from you. The installation process can be a little daunting if you aren't comfortable editing HTML, but if you follow the instructions for your blogging platform you shouldn't have too much trouble. If all else fails, your friendly neighborhood web developer should have no problem getting things set up for you. In fact, for those of us using Blogger, they have an automatic installation took (just be sure to back up your settings before you try anything like this).

Haloscan give you support for both incoming and outgoing trackbacks. I use it for only the former. The latter is a bit too clunky for me. In order to send the "ping", you have to locate all of the information required (the title, permalink, excerpt, etc) and then fill in a form on the Haloscan site. I much prefer that all of this information be collected for me automatically.

I have a few other minor complaints about Haloscan. First, it is a bit slow. I did a test trackback on one of my older posts and it took almost an hour before it appeared on my site. Update: This seems to be a lot faster now. Perhaps my first test was during a bad time.

Second, the trackback listings aren't incorporated directly into the site. If you click on the trackback link below, it pops up a separate window with the listings (a window over which you have no real control regarding its look and feel). Finally, Haloscan doesn't seem to have any sort of moderation for trackbacks (though it does for comments). This means that anyone can automatically create a link to their site from yours. Of course, you can just delete anything which you don't want included, but if you are someone who likes to have control from the beginning, this might be a show-stopper.

Despite these problems, if this is the only way you have to send and receive a trackback ping, it's a long sight better than nothing. And until Blogger decides to support the trackback protocols natively (chances are somewhere between slim and none), your other choice is nothing.

Tomorrow I'll do a quick piece on a better tool for some of us.

So, are their any blogs you read on a regular basis which support trackback? Which ones?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Talkin' Trackbacks, Part 2: How

OK, so after reading the first post in this series, you might be mildly interested in this whole trackback thing -- especially if you are a blogger who would like to increase his readership. I can hear you thinking, though, "How does this all work? If it's too difficult, I'm not going to do it."

Fair enough. I'll tell you, though, that if you have the wherewithal to actually post in your blog on a regular basis, then doing a trackback should be a breeze.

Warning: Technical Content

Now, some of this is going to be dependent on which blogging software you use, but, in general this is how the procedure works. By the way, if you'd like to see a good example of a "tackback-able" blog, check out Seth Godin's. His was the first one to which I sent a trackback ping (which resulted in the first day that my readership exceeded twenty readers for the day).

So, here are the steps:

  1. Read a blog post on a blog where you have an interest, whether it be "new marketing" or "knitting sweaters for weasels".
  2. Discover that you have something important to say on the subject. This is actually a pretty important step. Remember that the response you are crafting will be a post on your own blog (What? You don't have a blog? What are you waiting for?). Also, many authors moderate their trackbacks, so if they don't think what you are saying is worthy of a reverse link, they don't have to include you.
  3. Find the "trackback URL" for the original post. Usually, when you click on a trackback link for a post, there will be a short message that looks something like: Trackback URL for this entry: -- remember where this is.
  4. Write your post -- Of course, using your normal amazing powers of prose.
  5. Paste in the trackback URL. This is the one area where you might have to do a little research, but there should be an entry field for this information. You are in especially good shape if you use one of the blogging packages which supports trackbacks natively, such as MovableType or WordPress (What? You use Blogger, like I do? Tune in tomorrow for how we can take part in the fun!).
  6. Publish your post. Yep, click on the "submit" or "Publish" or "Make it so" button -- whichever gets things going for your blog.
  7. Let the trackback facility do its thing. What happens next is your blogging software sends out a "ping" to the blogging software for the original post -- sort of a computerized "hello". It sends along some other information, like who you are, the title of your post, the URL for your post, and a short excerpt of your literary masterpiece. The system on the other end takes that information and either puts it on the trackback page or queues it up for approval by the original blogger.
And that's pretty much how it works. Essentially, it's just a couple of extra steps for you (copy trackback URL, paste trackback URL) and you've got a great new way to carry on a conversation and make more people aware of your blog.

What's that I hear? You're all excited about using trackbacks, but your blogging software doesn't support them? Tune in tomorrow (and the next day, probably) to find out what else you can do.

So, what do you think, would you be willing to try trackbacks?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Talkin' Trackbacks, Part 1: What and Why

One of the exciting aspects of blogging is the ability to interact with your readers. There's something about the rich interplay of ideas and opinions which really fuels the creative process -- even when they tell you that you're being stupid. Also, let's face it, someone commenting on your post means that they probably read it, and we all like to know that we're communicating with somebody.

Most readers interact with the blogger through the comment feature. They click on the "comment" link, enter their well-thought-out response and go on their merry way. This is great as far as it goes, but, if you look to the bottom of this post, right next to the "comments" link, there's a link to a better way.

It's called a trackback.


I've written about this before, but the trackback facility is a wonderful way, as my hero Scott Ginsberg would say, for bloggers to share "link love". The basic idea is similar to making comments, but instead of the reader leaving her message with me, she would write her commentary as a post in her own blog. Then the trackback facility would create a link between the two posts. Instant "link love!"

OK, Why?

Why would I, as a blogger, allow someone to link to my blog posts like this? Isn't the trackbacker basically trying to steal my readers?

Well, no, not really.

In fact, in order to make the "conversation" make sense, the trackbacker almost has to create a link back to my post. So, while she might increase her readership through gaining exposure to my readership, the reverse is also true, so I might get a slight bump in mine.

Amazing. We both win!

You can even make the argument that people are going to be more thoughtful and thought-provoking in their own blogs than they would in the regular comments section on a post. In fact, some bloggers, like Seth Godin, don't even allow comments on their blogs. They only have trackbacks.

Depending on the level of experience you've had with blogging in general, and the facility of trackbacking in particular, you might be intrigued, confused, or simply bored. I'm not sure I can do much with the latter, but we'll be taking a closer look at the details of trackbacks over the next couple of days in hopes of satisfying the former.

Tomorrow we'll take a look at how this whole trackback thing works.

So, what's your experience been with the trackback facility?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Artrain 101

The folks at Artrain are throwing a party or two to reach out to the community to let everyone know what's up and coming for everyone's favorite museum on wheels. The public is invited to an hour-long presentation complete with snacks. If you've read my post on the big changes for Artrain, you know that this will probably be an information packed hour.

The reception will be down at the Artrain Ann Arbor home near the New Center. They're actually having three gatherings - January 31 at 5:30pm, February 21 at 5:30 and March 12 at 8:30am. Everyone is welcome. They'd love it if you would RSVP to 734-747-8300, but you are also more than welcome to come unannounced.

So, if you've ever been interested in Artrain and you would like to find out more about the changes in store, reserve some time to stop down at 1100 North Main, Suite 106, Ann Arbor, MI. They'll be glad to see you.

So, when was the last time you attended Artrain?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Speedy Bag Delivery!

... If not a speedy reporting of such.

Well, life seems to have fallen into more of a groove now. On the personal side, we were able to locate a nanny for little Kaylie. Cara has been an absolute god-send for us. Now I can slowly dig myself out from under all of the tasks that have been piling up on my desk.

The first thing I wanted to get off the pile is more of a joy than a "task".

Just before the new year, I got a chance to chat with and deliver a welcome bag to one of the newest member of the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce, James Macsay. Now, when James gave me his business card, it was for "Macsay & Associates, Inc." and it claimed that he specialized in "Organization Development and Communication".

Pretty exciting stuff, right?

It may well be, but the reason he joined the Chamber was in his persona as "Jimmy Mac", one of the ringleaders who produces and hosts "Radio Free Bacon".

Yes, you read me correctly. That's "Radio Free Bacon", as in the breakfast side-dish. RFB is a group who presents a series of live audio shows, somewhat reminiscent of NPR's "A Prairie Home Companion". In this case, though, the variety is definitely home-grown Ann Arbor. In fact, they recorded the last series at Zingerman's Roadhouse, a popular local eatery.

They are gearing up for their 2008 series right now. The new shows will start on May 18 and will again be at the Roadhouse. There's also some talk that one of our local stations WKQI 107.1 may broadcast the shows. Check out the Radio Free Bacon website for more information and to listen to archived versions of the show.

So, does your community have it's own radio variety show?