The new Google Motion

Google Motion schematic
In a previous article, I wrote about 9 Gmail features to help keep your e-mail under control. Today, you can add one more to the list to make an even 10. Google just released Google Motion. This new system is great for anyone who spends a lot of time in front of the computer every day. Get moving and check it out today!

Posted in E-mail, Humor | Tagged April Fools, e-mail, Gmail, Google Motion | Leave a comment

Controlling who sees what on Facebook

Facebook gives you a somewhat overwhelming number of different settings to use to control what information is accessible to others and what information you see from friends/pages/apps. This article is about how to find those settings and also how to set up named lists of friends/pages to use to control those permissions and filters.

Creating a list

Some Facebook settings include a customize option that allows you to enter names of individual friends to either include or exclude from viewing your content. Rather than listing each friend for each setting, it’s easier to create a predefined, named list of individuals. When friends are added/removed from named lists, all the associated permissions are updated instantly. Named lists, which can also contain pages, are also useful for filtering the content you see.

Some ways lists might be useful:

  • Create a list of closest friends and use it to quickly view their recent activity without wading through all the updates from all the other friends/pages to which you are connected.
  • Create a list of friends who need a PG-13 rating (e.g. work friends, conservative family members, minors) and use it to exclude them from sensitive content.
  • Create a list of your favorite pages and use it to read through those updates separately from reading friends’ updates.
  • Create a list of local friends and use it to post about local activities or deals without boring the non-locals.
  • Create a list of friends who play Facebook games and use it to post game-related updates without irritating the non-players.
  • Create a list of friends with a shared hobby and use it to post in geeky depth about that hobby without confusing everyone else.

Creating a named list is simple. (show instructions)

Controlling what others see

There are many settings pertaining to what bits of your content others can see. I would recommend you walk through all of them on Facebook to understand what you’re sharing and make changes as appropriate.

“Connecting on Facebook” settings – This group of settings controls the areas that Facebook expects are of interest to potential friends who are trying to decide if they know you. Items such as your work experience and friends list are included here. Named lists can be used for some of these settings. (show instructions)

“Sharing on Facebook” settings – This group of settings controls the defaults for all the other information, posts, and photos that you share or that others share about you. Named lists can be used for some of these settings. (show instructions)

“Edit Profile” settings – There are a three pseudo privacy settings scattered in your profile to control whether your sex, birthday, and pages you like are shown on your profile. I use the term pseudo because I believe that these settings only dictate whether the information is displayed on your profile page; the information is still available to apps unless the appropriate permissions are set elsewhere. (show instructions)

Block a user – Blocking a user makes your profile and photo albums inaccessible to her.  (show instructions)

Block an app – Blocking an app makes your data inaccessible to it. (show instructions)

“Apps and Websites” settings – This group of settings controls what information you or your friends give to apps or partner websites. Named lists can be used for some of these settings. (show instructions)

Status updates – The default permissions for status updates are controlled via the Posts by me setting in the Sharing on Facebook area. Permissions can also be set on individual status messages, but only before you’ve hit the Share button. Named lists can be used for this setting.(show instructions)

Your photos albums – The default permissions for photo albums are controlled via the Posts by me setting in the Sharing on Facebook area. Permissions can also be set on individual photo albums. Named lists can be used for this setting.(show instructions)

Other people’s photos – You can’t control what pictures other people post, but you do have the ability to remove tags to yourself so those pictures will not show up on your wall or profile. (show instructions)

Photostream – You have veto control over what photos are displayed across the top of your profile, although the picture can still be seen in its original album by anyone with appropriate privileges. Use caution when you hide a photo because if you want to unhide it, you must unhide all of the photos you’ve hidden. (show instructions)

Controlling what you see

Newsfeed priority – You have the option to have your newsfeed show All of your friends and pages or Friends and pages you interact with most. Recently the Facebook world was aflutter with claims that Facebook set everyone’s choice to the latter of these options when they rolled out the change. I’d recommend that you verify that yours is set the way you want it. (show instructions)

Newsfeed filtering – If you’ve set up named lists, you can filter your newsfeed to show only posts from friends/pages on that list. (show instructions)

Hide a friend/page/app in your newsfeed – You can hide specific friends/pages/apps from showing up in your newsfeed without unfriending/unliking/disabling them. This does not affect what you can see if you go to friend/page/app’s profile.(show instructions)

Page wall filtering – If you are viewing a page (for a company, blog, etc.), you can choose to see everything on their wall or just the posts made by them. (show instructions)

“Block Lists” settings – This group of settings allows you to block event requests, invites, or everything from specific users. (show instructions)

Block an app – You can block apps from sending you requests. (show instructions)

Words of caution

Don’t let these settings lure you into a false sense of security. Remember that anything you post on the internet has the potential of getting to the wrong eyes, regardless of how you set your Facebook settings. Even putting aside questions that have been raised about Facebook’s integrity when dealing with your data, there are hackers out there… or friends who don’t have the same boundaries as you and might share something you don’t want shared… or friends who accidentally slip and share something they shouldn’t… or software bugs… or sneaky apps.

Some specific areas to note if you are trying to exclude someone are:

  • Do not tag her in a post or photo you don’t want her to see. Tagging a person seems to override other permissions you have set on the post.
  • If you exclude person A from something on your wall, she won’t see the follow up comment by person B on your wall. However, if she’s friends with person B, she may be able to look at person B’s profile and see the potentially incriminating follow up comment there.
  • Blocking makes two people mostly invisible to each other, but not entirely; see the Facebook FAQ for specifics.

As Khalil Gibran wrote, “If you reveal your secrets to the wind, you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.”

Posted in Facebook | Tagged blocking, Facebook, filters, lists, permissions, privacy, privileges | 1 Comment

User control of the Blogger comment form

This post is about a bookmarklet that I use when submitting multiple comments to a blog run on the Blogger platform. It standardizes the input window. This functionality isn’t of much value unless you’re submitting several comments in succession, for example, when entering a giveaway.

There are three possible settings for Blogger blog comments. When you look at the end of the comments section at the bottom of a Blogger post, you’ll see either an embedded form (Figure A) or a link to Post a Comment (Figure B).

Figure A: Embedded form

Figure A: Embedded form

Figure B: Post a Comment link

Figure B: Post a Comment link

In the latter case, if you click on the link, you’ll get either a small pop-up window (Figure C) or a new, full-size window/tab (Figure D). If word verification is enabled for the blog, it will show up here.

Figure C: Popup form

Figure C: Popup form

Figure D: Full page form

Figure D: Full page form

This bookmarklet opens a full-size window/tab like Figure D regardless of the blog’s settings.

This is useful because…

  • You find out up front if the blog has word verification (a.k.a. captcha) enabled so you can make an informed decision on whether you want to proceed. The embedded form is sneaky. You type your comment, click Post Comment, and only then does it prompt you for word verification if necessary.
  • You don’t have to wait as long between comments for the page to load because there aren’t any widgets on the page. When using the embedded form, you have to wait for certain elements of the page to load before you can make your next comment or submit a word verification. If the page has a lot of widgets on it, this can be a noticeable amount of time.
  • You can open multiple windows/tabs and easily tell them apart because the blog post’s title is there at the top of the window. This functionality is especially useful when entering giveaways that give extra entries for entering other giveaways. With the pop-up form, there’s no way to easily tell which blog post spawned the window. In fact, if you try to open the comment window from a second post, it will take over the first pop-up window.
  • You don’t have to scroll down to the comment form because it’s at the top of the window.
  • You won’t hit submit on a comment and dash off without realizing that word verification is required.

So without further ado, here are two versions of the bookmarklet. 1) opens as a new window and 2) opens in the same window. Follow the instructions here to install it. When you’re on a post of a Blogger blog, just click the bookmarklet, and it will open a full-size comment window either in a new window/tab or in the same window/tab.

Posted in Entering giveaways, Web browsing | Tagged Blogger, bookmarklet, comment form, pop-up window | Leave a comment

Is that site down?

Have you ever sent out a message to your friends asking, “Is it just me, or is such and such a site down?” If you want a quicker answer, try It’s a simple, no-frills website that does just one thing. It checks if it can make a connection to the URL you give it. You type a URL in the box and hit enter. It comes back with one of two messages. Either “It’s just you. is up.”  or “It’s not just you! looks down from here.”

Posted in Great sites, Web browsing | Tagged great site, internet connectivity | 4 Comments

Why verifying every entry before a drawing is unnecessary

When I first started entering blog giveaways, I noticed some bloggers posting something to the effect of, “I verify all entries.” Initially, I thought those bloggers must mean that once the random number generator picked a number, the blogger would verify that entry (and the corresponding mandatory entry if applicable) and disqualify it if it weren’t valid. It turns out I was wrong. There are some bloggers out there that verify every, single entry before drawing a winner. This post is for them.

If you’re verifying every entry before drawing a winner because you want to clean up spam and make your blog tidy, go for it. However, if you are verifying every entry because you think not doing so will change anyone’s chance of winning, don’t bother. As long as your reaction to drawing an invalid entry is to redraw for a new winner (as opposed to just moving to the next person on the list), you aren’t affecting anyone’s odds by leaving the invalid entries alone until you draw.

Consider the example where there are 100 entries (91 valid and 9 invalid), and Jane has 3 of the valid entries. I believe the confusion is because some people think that if the invalid entries are not deleted prior to drawing, Jane has only a 3 in 100 (3%) chance of winning, whereas if the invalid entries are all removed before the drawing, Jane has a 3 in 91 (3.3%) chance. The catch is that the 3 in 100 calculation does not take into account Jane’s possibility of winning in a redraw if an invalid entry is drawn.

Let’s work through a simple example. We have five entries: A (valid), B (valid), C (valid), D (invalid), and E (invalid). We’ll show that the odds of entry B winning the contest are 1/3 whether you leave the invalid entries in the pool or not. For the first drawing, all five entries have an equal chance of being drawn. We’ll visualize this as a bar split into five pieces like so:

round 1If entry D (invalid) is chosen in the first drawing, we drop it from the entry pool and redraw. The entry pool for that second drawing is A, B, C and E, and all four entries have a 1/4 chance of being drawn. We visualize this by taking the grey bar for entry D in the first drawing and, without changing its size, split it into four equal pieces, representing each entry in the second drawing. Drawing entry E in the first round will result in a similar redraw:

round 2Repeat a similar treatment for the third round:

round 3

If we plug all the redraws back into our original diagram, we get the distribution of every possible outcome of the contest:

merge redrawsShuffling those pieces around to group them, we see that when we figure in the redraw results, each of the valid entries (A, B, and C) ends up with an equal chance (1/3) of winning the contest. We don’t care how many draws were made, just whether the entry won in the end:

regroup piecesThis example was simple enough to work out graphically, but the general case can be mathematically proven using convergent series to arrive at the same conclusion. Whether you remove the invalid entries ahead of time or not, the chance of any given valid entry winning the contest is one divided by the number of valid entries. The chance of a particular contestant winning the contest is the number of valid entries she submitted divided by the total number of valid entries in the contest.

In the five-entry example, for simplicity, the invalid entries dropped out one at a time as they were drawn. In a real drawing, you might drop several entries before you redraw. For example, if the entry you draw is invalid because the mandatory entry wasn’t completed, you can delete all the rest of the entries by that contestant at the same time then do your redraw. The odds don’t change.

The above information assumes that if you draw an invalid entry, you do a redraw. You can not simply move to the next entry on the list. Doing so opens your contest up to cheaters who put in invalid entries in order to increase the odds for the next person (e.g. a friend or second identity).


Posted in Hosting giveaways | Tagged hosting giveaways, odds, statistics, verifying entries | 7 Comments

Why “username at domain dot com” isn’t fooling the spammers

A long time ago, when the World Wide Web was in its infancy, all the web developers used a “mailto link” like for e-mail addresses on their websites. A reader could simply click on the link, and her favorite mail reader would pop up with the “To:” and possibly even the “Subject:” lines pre-filled. Those days were good. However, the spammers, or more accurately, the e-mail harvesters, quickly realized that they could pad their e-mail lists by grabbing all the mailto links on a page. A few web developers got clever and dropped the link, putting addresses into their pages as simple text. But, the harvesters weren’t fooled for long. They began to grab both the mailto links and anything with an @ sign in it. It didn’t matter if sometimes they got nonsense like “flowers@$20/dozen”. It cost them little to try the “address” and strip it from the list when the mail bounced.

So then some other web denizens started to write out the “at” and/or the “dot” to thwart the harvesters. The harvesters caught on again. Here are some of the many permutations that have been tried:

  • username at
  • username at domain dot com
  • username (at) domain (dot) com (with and without spaces)
  • username [at] domain [dot] com (with and without spaces)
  • username_at_domain_dot_com
  • userSPAMname at domain dot com
  • userREMOVEMEname at domain dot com
  • user(SPAM)name at domain dot com
  • username+spam at domain dot com
  • any of the above replacing “at” with “AT” or “@” and/or replacing “dot” with “DOT” or “.”

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but a good programmer could write a SINGLE LINE of code using what’s called a “regular expression” that would recognize ALL of those formats as potential e-mail addresses. Another line or two might be needed to strip the extraneous characters out of the latter examples, but that’s it.

If you are posting your e-mail address in a form that follows the below pattern (choose one item from each column), then the harvesters’ web scraping code can already find you. Don’t feel left out if you’ve got a longer address like or, they’ve got you, too, if you’re following a similar pattern.

username * @
* domain * .
* com
* = no, one, or any combination of non-alphanumeric character(s)

It’s true that if you do something unique to disguise your e-mail address, the harvesters won’t find you right away, but once people begin to copy your format, the harvesters will code your pattern into their web scraping routines. Trying to disguise your e-mail address by putting it in any generalizable form is somewhat akin to putting a lock on your luggage. It makes you feel like your property is safer, and it’ll keep the lowest level thief out, but in the end, it’s only a minor deterrent to someone who really wants what’s inside.


Posted in Entering giveaways, Web browsing | Tagged e-mail address, spammers | 7 Comments

A quick way to sign your blog comments

I’ve entered over 3,700 blog giveaways to date so a number of my posts over the next month will be related in some way to entering giveaways. To enter most of these contests, you leave a comment(s) on a blog post. When entering at blogs that use the Blogger platform, it can get a bit tiring adding your e-mail address to each comment. There are a few different ways to make this go faster, but I find a “bookmarklet” to be pretty easy.

A bookmarklet is a bookmark/favorite that runs a snippet of javascript code rather than goes to a designated URL. I use the following bookmarklet to sign blog comments:


What this does is go to the textbox where my cursor is, and, at the end of any existing text, it insert a new line (that’s the \n) and the text I’ve stored this bookmarklet in my bookmarks toolbar (Firefox) and favorites bar (Internet Explorer) which display across the top of my browser window. Below are directions for installing/using this bookmarklet (disclaimer). One caveat is that this bookmarklet doesn’t work with 100% of the textboxes out there. Sometimes the textbox is coded into the website in such a way that the bookmarklet can’t make changes to it.

Firefox 3 bookmark

  1. Right click on this link and select Bookmark This Link from the displayed menu.
  2. Enter the name for the bookmark.
  3. Select Bookmarks Toolbar from the dropdown menu.
  4. Click the Save button.
  5. If your bookmark toolbar is not enabled, go to the View menu and select Toolbars then Bookmarks Toolbar.
  6. Voila, your bookmarklet should be sitting there at the top of the browser window.bookmarklet shown in Firefox bookmark toolbar
  7. Now you need to tweak it to insert your signature. Right click on the bookmarklet and select Properties from the displayed menu. In the Location field, change the string \ to whatever you want. When you’re done, click the Save button. [Quick aside, if you put a space in your string, the system will convert it to %20 after you save the bookmarklet. Don’t worry, it comes out as a space when the bookmarklet runs.]
  8. To use the bookmarklet, just put your cursor in a textbox on a website then click the bookmarklet.

Internet Explorer 8 favorite

  1. Right click on this link and select Add to Favorites… from the displayed menu.
  2. You may get a popup message at this point warning You are adding a favorite that might not be safe. If you trust the bookmarklet author, click Yes.
  3. Enter the name for the favorite.
  4. Select Favorites Bar from the dropdown menu.
  5. Click the Add button.
  6. If your favorites bar is not enabled, go to the View menu and select Toolbars then Favorites Bar.
  7. Voila, your bookmarklet should be sitting there at the top of the browser window.bookmarklet in Internet Explorer favorites bar
  8. Now you need to tweak it to insert your signature. Right click on the bookmarklet and select Properties from the displayed menu. In the URL field (Web Document tab), change the string \ to whatever you want. When you’re done, click the OK button. [Quick aside, if you put a space in your string, the system will convert it to %20 after you save the bookmarklet. Don’t worry, it comes out as a space when the bookmarklet runs.]
  9. To use the bookmarklet, just put your cursor in a textbox on a website then click the bookmarklet.
Posted in Entering giveaways, Web browsing | Tagged bookmarklet, Firefox, Internet Explorer | Leave a comment

9 Gmail features to help keep your e-mail under control

Gmail logoI love my Gmail accounts (yes, that’s plural). Like many areas of my life, my e-mail accounts are not perfectly organized, but the systems and bits of organization I do have in place, make things work fairly smoothly. Here are nine features that keep me from dreading opening my mail. The features marked “webmail” apply to the webmail client for Gmail, but those features have counterparts in many mail readers such as Thunderbird and Outlook.

1. Starring (webmail) – Have you ever read an e-mail message that needed a response, but not had time to send the response that moment, then forgotten to send one later? Starring is a great way to mark those messages that need a response. Just click the little star next to the sender’s name to toggle the star on/off. You can click the “Starred” link on the left to show only the Starred messages. For more information, see Gmail help on starring.

2. Archiving (webmail) – When you log into Gmail, that big list of messages you see is your Inbox. Did you know that you don’t have to delete messages to move them off that list? Once you’ve read a message and dealt with it, you can move it to the archive by clicking the “Archive” button. The message is out of sight, but not out of mind. Archived mail is still hanging out there on Gmail’s servers. You can click the “All Mail” link on the left to see it all. By default, the search function searches in both your Inbox and Archive so you don’t have to remember if you’ve archived the message for which you’re looking. When you get a new message in an archived conversation, the conversation shows back up in your Inbox. Archiving simply moves the message out of immediate eye sight. Just doing that can make your e-mail account feel much less overwhelming. For more information, see Gmail help on archiving.

3. Labeling (webmail) – Labeling messages makes them easier to find. When you label a message, Google creates a link on the left hand side with that label title. When you click on that link, you see all the messages with that label. That much sounds a bit like good, old-fashioned folders, but there are at least two differences. One difference is that you can put more than one label on a given message. Another is that the label(s) shows up next to the subject line in any listing of messages such as when you search your account for messages matching specific keywords. For more information, see Gmail help on labeling.

4. Forwarding – Gmail allows you to forward your mail from your Gmail account to any other e-mail address(es) (one-time verification is necessary). This feature makes it easy to maintain multiple accounts, but not have to worry about checking each one regularly. For example, you could set up a Gmail account that you use only when you make a Craigslist posting. Instead of checking that account obsessively during the day to see if anyone has sent you a question, you can set up forwarding to your regular account (which may or may not be on Gmail). Another example would be a Gmail account for your homeowner association board. You could set it up to forward to all of the HOA board members so someone on the board would know there was an outstanding issue to address. For more information, see Gmail help on forwarding.

5. Send mail as (webmail) – This feature is probably most often used in tandem with mail forwarding. You can set up your Gmail account so that you can send mail that looks like it came from another account you own (one time verification is necessary). To use the Craigslist example again, if someone sends e-mail to your account for Craigslist mail (account C) that is forwarded to your personal account (account A), you don’t have to sign on to account C to respond. You can send a response from account A that shows account C in the From field. Account C doesn’t have to be a Gmail account, but it’s a little less complicated to set up if it is. For more information, see Gmail help on send mail as.

6. Plus-addressing – There’s this wonderful thing called plus-addressing that Gmail supports. Mail sent to goes to (no special set up required so you can make up the “+anything” on the spot). What’s so great about this? It gives you an easy way to categorize incoming mail. For example, I sign up for all my newsletter subscriptions as I have a filter set up that labels and archives any mail with in the To line. All my newsletters get neatly tucked away where I can read them when I have time. The only caveat with plus-addressing is that there are some web forms or programs that incorrectly identify e-mail addresses of that form as invalid so you may not be able to use plus-addressing in every instance you want. For those exceptions, you could set up a special filter to grab and redirect incoming messages from that source.

7. Filters – Adding filters for incoming mail can be pretty powerful. Filters are basically search parameters that the system applies to all incoming messages and then takes your specified action for any messages that match the filter. You can filter incoming messages by information in the From, To, or Subject fields or in the body of the message. You can then do things to those messages automatically such as archive, delete, label, star, or forward them. Perhaps you want to star any mail from your boss or label and archive anything coming in to For more information see, Gmail help on filtering.

8. Spam filter – Google’s spam filter has served me well. I very rarely have to deal with spam.

9. Search (webmail) – Whether you’ve been able to add some structure to your account or not, you can always put the power of Google’s search to work. You can build up some fairly complex queries to find exactly the message for which you’re looking. Besides just searching for specific words, you can add restrictions like “label:fred” to look only at messages labeled “fred” or “is:unread” to look only at unread messages. For more information, see Gmail help on search operators.

Posted in E-mail | Tagged e-mail, Gmail | Leave a comment, a great reference for foreign language verbs

VerbixI’m trying to learn Italian. One of my practice activities is to try to read things written in Italian. Since I’m at the beginning of the learning curve, I’ll recognize a few words then flip-flip-flip through the translation dictionary to figure out the next one. This works great with nouns and certain other parts of speech, but verbs can be difficult. Can you imagine someone who doesn’t speak English coming across the word “is” or “was”? How do you look that up in a translation dictionary when it has no resemblance to the base form of the verb, “be”?

Somehow, I stumbled upon the website I must say, I love the Verbix Verb Finder. Enter the word “was”, for example, and it tells you:

Dutch was, inflected form of “wassen
Dutch was, inflected form of “zijn
English was, inflected form of “be
Gothic was, inflected form of “wisan
Middle High-German was, inflected form of “sîn
Middle High-German was, inflected form of “wësen

You can click on the links it gives, and Verbix will take you to a full conjugation of that verb. You can go the other direction as well. If you know the base form of a verb already and want to conjugate it, just use the Verbix On-line Verb Conjugator. At this writing, they have 66 languages in their system.

Verbix is my one-stop shop for foreign language verbs.

Posted in Great sites | Tagged foreign languages, great site, verbs | Leave a comment


I stressed about this initial post for awhile. What could I write that would be entertaining or enticing enough that it would bring people back to my blog? It finally occurred to me that it didn’t really matter that much. While this is the first post I’m *writing* for the blog, if it is the first post you’re *reading* on my blog, well, then you’re probably a friend of mine who came to support me from the beginning so I don’t have to impress you anyway. If you’re anyone else, you likely came to the site either through the main URL, in which case you read the latest article, or through a link to a specific article someone thought was interesting. Either way, the fact that you stayed here long enough to be now reading this post, suggests that you’re not someone I have to hard sell.

I love finding easier ways to do things, especially on the computer. Sometimes that means writing a little code. Sometimes it means finding a great website that does what I need. Sometimes it’s as simple as locating the right options in a piece of software I’m already using. This blog is a place for me to share those tools and techniques when I discover them.

Posted in About | 2 Comments