About me
About me

Expanding waistlines…

Regular visitors will, no doubt, have noticed by now that sjhoward.co.uk is a little wider than before. Frankly, this is because I felt that it was looking a bit weedy in comparison to the recently expanded Guardian Unlimited, Times Online, Telegraph.co.uk, and that bastion of quality journalism, Heat World.

I’d love to say it was peer pressure, but that seems a little big-headed, even for me.

Anyway, I felt that the site needed expanding. However, as previously explored, if the text columns are any wider then they become more difficult to read. Short lines are always best on a computer screen.

Other important considerations were keeping the posts top-left, as the focal point of the page, and not ending up with two bamboozling sidebars next to each other – a look which always fries my mind, on any site.

So, I decided to use the extra space to highlight other stuff on the site – when you’ve got a back-catalogue of well over 1,000 posts, it seems a shame that only one or two are highlighted on any particular page. Hopefully, the little pictorial promo-boxes will encourage you to explore the site more, as well as brightening things up a bit.

Initial feedback has consisted mainly of ‘Ooh, what’s that think about Graham Norton?’, and ‘Tyra Banks? Click that!’ which I judge something of a success. Hopefully, there are enough of them to stop you becoming sick of the sight of them too quickly, and of course, I’ll add more all the time.

So… what do you think of the tweaked look? Any major complaints?

This 1,232nd post was filed under: Blogging, Site Updates.

Hotlinking mysteries and political tedium

As I’ve alluded to in the recent past, quite a number of websites hotlink images from this one. It’s something that I once tried to discourage using complicated scripts, but then pretty much gave up. Many images on the site are, for some reason, highly rated by Google Images, which only increases the amount of hotlinking that goes on.

I was surprised today, though, to find that The Amateur Scientist had found this image on my server. I couldn’t imagine why it was on there… what post could possibly require an illustration of a herd of goats?

Then I remembered: It was this one. A fascinating anecdote, portraying the joys of political blogging when politics is dull.

Given that this purports to be a political blog, I will actually post something about politics sometime in the not too distant future, I promise… but all that seems to be going on at the moment is traditional Conservative Party dissent accompanied by traditional Conservative Party policy rehashes, in this case the idea introducing an optional volunteering scheme spun as ‘National Service’.

And Gordon Brown seems to be just plodding on in a Brownish way, apparently considering calling a snap election – of course he’s not really considering it, unless he’s more stupid than he looks, whatever the polls might say. Polls and elections are different species. Now I’m just waffling.

It’s Conference Season coming up, though, so they’ll be plenty of stuff to write then. In the meantime, go watch some stupid videos.

This 1,205th post was filed under: Blogging, Politics.

Top 20 political blogs

Iain Dale is asking people to nominate their top twenty political blogs so that he can compile a top 100 for his latest book.

These things are impossible to do, but glancing briefly through my feed reader, I reckon these are all good… but I’ve probably got them in the wrong order, missed people out, and made myself look stupid. But hey, no change there…

  1. S J Howard (of course…)
  2. Iain Dale’s Diary
  3. Guido Fawkes
  4. Nick Robinson’s Newslog
  5. Downing Street Says
  6. Dizzy Thinks
  7. Charlie Beckett
  8. James O’Malley: Living Legend
  9. RecessMonkey
  10. Adam Boulton
  11. PM
  12. NHS Blog Doc
  13. Random Acts of Reality
  14. Boris Johnson
  15. Burning Our Money
  16. Dirty Leftie
  17. Paul Linford
  18. Mark Mardell
  19. Tim Worstall
  20. Tim McLoughlin

So what are your top tips? Hop over to Mr Dale’s website and post your list. You have until 15th August. Obviously, there’s no dispute about Number 1… 😉

This 1,195th post was filed under: Blogging, Politics.

Margaret Thatcher not dead yet

One of the big political bloggers – Recess Monkey – finds his credibility in his boots this morning, after having to issue a correction about Margaret Thatcher’s death. Primarily because she’s alive.

Of course, much of what political bloggers (including me) post turns out in the wash to be fairly inaccurate, but prematurely reporting the death of one of the most important Prime Ministers of the last century pushes credibility a little bit far.

But hey, Recess Monkey‘s a good read, and (if nothing else) there are links pointing to his site as a result of this. New links means new readers, so it might all turn out well. We can only hope.

This 1,075th post was filed under: Blogging.

WordPress 2.1.1 Changed Files ZIP

I’ve just updated to the newly released WordPress 2.1.1 from 2.1. I usually use Mark’s Changed Files ZIP to make this change, but he doesn’t appear to have come out with the new one quite yet, so I’ve put one together for use in the meantime.

Obviously, I can’t guarantee that everything’s right in there, but I’m fairly certain it is, and (of course) this isn’t an official WordPress download. I’ve just found Mark’s so useful in the past that I hope someone finds this useful so that I can get a warm altruistic glow from feeding back into the community. Or something.

Download it here

This 1,069th post was filed under: Blogging, Site Updates.

Is the reign of spam coming to an end?

Spam AttackSince midnight, I’ve received 313 spam emails, and 11 genuine emails. So, on this pretty representative sample, 97% of my email is spam. That’s probably atypical, as my email address is liberally sprinkled all over the internet, but still, 97% of my email is spam.

On this very blog, there have been no genuine comments since midnight, but hundreds of spam comments (I haven’t even bothered to count…). That’s not really such a representative sample, but I’d say about 97% of the comments received on here are spam, too.

Yet, thanks to my spam filters, I’ve only seen one spam email get through to my inbox, and one spam comment was caught in my moderation queue (where spam comments are held if my advanced spam filter okays the message but my crude one doesn’t). Out of several hundred spam messages, only two have passed before my eyes. That’s much, much less than 1% of the spam I’m sent.

So, effectively, instead of the huge proportion of spam destroying email as a communication tool, it is probably less of an issue for me now than it was when only a few spam messages were hitting my inbox. With such a volume, the filters have become more finely trained, so that there are few false-negatives, and very, very, very few false-positives. Spammers are killing their own trade by inundating me.

Clearly, as long as people respond to spam, spam will continue. But it actually seems that, despite spammers getting more advanced, the success of their message in getting through is actually decreasing (except for on the odd occasion when things go wrong). So, perhaps, if the spam stops getting through to most people, it will stop being a problem for most people – and maybe the spammers will have to find other ways of conning people.

This 1,062nd post was filed under: Blogging, Technology.

All about the hits?

After barely six months, the excellent Cassilis has given up blogging, and he’s posted in some detail about his reasons for doing so.

I started blogging because I loved political writing. I wanted to be able to craft a sentence like Orwell or Hitchens, Chomsky or Hennessy … Looking back over what I’ve written is a depressing experience – there’s a few half decent posts and I know I can pull a half-decent paragraph or two together but by the standards I set myself (however ludicrously high they may have been) I haven’t succeeded.

Much the same can be said of me. There’s an awful lot of crap and bilge on this blog, particularly from the earlier days. Some of it is embarrassingly terrible. But there are nuggets of decent writing in there, too. Hopefully, as time has passed, the nugget to mud ratio has increased, and with any luck will continue to increase. I post a lot less often than I once did, but I’d like to think that each post was better for it. It’s certainly more satisfying.

What’s more the medium itself isn’t what I envisaged it to be – the hype surrounding blogs is all about an alternative media, the democratisation of journalism and the ‘voice’ of the ordinary people. But bloggers aren’t ordinary people – most of them, like me, are political nerds or obsessives who get off on the idea of interacting with like-minded people. Looking back over the six months or so I’ve been doing this the posts that have generated the most comments are those that deal directly with blogging itself (or comments from mainstream pundits on blogging) … So the fact that the topic that generates most interaction is blogging itself tells you something about the medium – most of us read blogs to see if anyone has read our blogs, given us a link or has any interesting widget in their sidebar that we could pinch. Comments are used rarely to advance genuine debate or discussion – simply to say ‘ hey, here’s what I think and I have a blog too’. It’s all about the traffic no matter what anyone tells you.

It’s true to say that I’m probably a political nerd or blogging obsessive, but I disagree that I write to interact with like-minded people. That’s never been the point. And similarly, traffic isn’t hugely important to me.

If I had ever been overly bothered about traffic, I wouldn’t be blogging now. In the first month of sjhoward.co.uk being online, I received 133 visits – many of which were from me. If that had unduly concerned me, then I’d have stopped writing long ago. Instead, I continue to write. I blog primarily because I enjoy writing, and it allows me to rationalise my thinking about current affairs. If I decide to write about something, then I have to think and form a rational opinion on the subject, rather than just mulling it over. It’s good for the brain, and good for the soul. If someone then comes along and reads these things what I write, then that’s a bonus – admittedly a very rewarding bonus, but it certainly isn’t the raison d’etre for the blog.

If I’d lived 50 years ago, I’d probably have written a diary reflecting on issues, which no-one would read. This place is merely a modern-day way of challenging myself to think about what I think, how I think, and why I think about certain issues. Sometimes, I’m not in a reflective mood, and I don’t post. I’m not a career blogger, and I’m not unduly concerned with hits. Though they’re nice.

I’m unusual in the blogging world in that I rarely post about blogging itself. I tend to just get on and do it. I don’t think I tend to enter into the community spirit of blogging. Yes, I have the obligatory blog roll, but I don’t have series of in-jokes between bloggers, I don’t constantly link to my favourites, and I’m not forever obsessed with what others are writing on topics. Occasionally, I’ll reference other blogs as they’ve made me think about issues, but I think I’m largely independent of the ‘community’ at large.

For me, blogging is a means to an end, not an end in itself. And perhaps that’s why I don’t see myself giving up any time soon.

This 1,041st post was filed under: Blogging.

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