Ad Nauseam

amad1On Friday morning a friend observed on Facebook that he was getting email from every website he had ever visited that had something to sell. His situation was hardly unique. I’m rather confident that everyone with any sort of internet connection was seeing an uptick in activity on the official beginning of open season on customers. The barrage had been building as anxious hunters fired off emails and other communications telling us that their Black Friday started on Thursday or Wednesday or even earlier. This is, I assume, the same sort of time warp that allows certain drinking establishments to advertise “The world’s longest Happy Hour”. I considered emailing him some sympathy but didn’t for two reasons. One was that to do so would be to add to the tide of useless messages in his inbox. The other was that I would soon be part of the problem.

Not the email overload problem but the general advertising overload problem it is part of. In a way, I’m already part of the problem. I published my second book in early November and that apparently tripped some trigger at Amazon. I have seen occasional Amazon sponsored Facebook ads not only for the new book but also for my first book published nearly two years ago. I don’t know if anyone else ever sees these ads and it has occurred to me that perhaps the only place these ads appear is on my own Facebook pages in some strange scheme to impress me.

But even if those ads do show up elsewhere (and they sure aren’t generating a rush of orders) my involvement is indirect only. That changed yesterday when a limited ad campaign for the latest book was launched. The seed was planted several months ago when a friend told me about his experience with Facebook advertising. The pricing was reasonable and, although there was little hard evidence, his gut feel was that it had helped. He had used it to promote an event and one of Facebook’s biggest attractions to him was the ability to geographically target the ads rather precisely. That sort of geographic precision isn’t nearly as useful in pushing a book but there were other attractions and I decided to give it a try. I have no illusions of actually making money peddling paperbacks but writers do like to be read.

amad2The image at the top of this article shows the ad that appears in what Facebook calls the “Desktop Right Column”. The one at left is for the “Mobile News Feed”. Other variations appear in other channels. As can be seen in the “News Feed” version, the ads are sponsored not by me but by Trip Mouse Publishing which has its own silly story.

The “mouse” thing goes back many years to my dart playing days. We always tried to come up with clever team names though we rarely succeeded. What I think may have been the very last team I played on was called, in a fairly accurate indication of our accuracy,  the Blind Mice. My participation in a CART (the guys who used to race at Indy) fantasy league overlapped the existence of the Blind Mice. I needed a team name when I signed up and, with mice on my mind, chose “Quick Mouse”. Years later I needed a user name for something and everything I submitted with pieces of my real name was refused. The site had something to do with travel and that prompted me to try TripMouse which was accepted. In 2013, when I was setting up the Create Space account for my first book, I had to indicate whether or not I wanted Create Space to appear as the publisher. I decided not but that meant I needed to say who and there was that somewhat appropriate TripMouse name laying around. Trip Mouse Publishing was born.

I used the name in establishing an account for paying Ohio sales tax on the few books I sold directly in state but it was otherwise an essentially imaginary company. As I created my Facebook ad, I was asked to set up a business page. Although this was presented as being optional, there were things that seemed to not work well or at all without it. After a few frustrating attempts to move on, I made a Trip Mouse Publishing Facebook page. I probably should have stopped right there but I decided that, if Trip Mouse was going to have a web presence, I wanted to have control of at least some of it. I set out to acquire a domain name. I was mildly surprised to find that someone already owned but absolutely flabbergasted to see that they wanted $1895 for it. I have absolutely no idea why that is especially when both and were available at 99¢ for the first year. For no logical reason, I opted for

It has been many years since I’ve registered a new domain name and the world has changed. Identifying Trip Mouse Publishing as a small business on Facebook probably spilled a little blood in the water, too. The result is that in addition to all the absolutely astounding deals I’m being offered on TVs, books, phones, clothes, cameras, et cetera, et cetera, I’m getting equally astounding offers for logo design, web hosting, website creation, and more. I do feel a little guilty for adding to the commercial clutter of Facebook but with every offer of a half price premium turnkey website package the guilt diminishes just a little more.

Meet the New Host

Arvixe web hostionSame as the old host? Only time will tell. Like pretty much every fresh relationship, committing to a new web hosting company is filled with hope and anticipation. A common hope, particularly when a move is triggered by a need to get out of a bad situation, is that the new relationship will be different. I’ve just moved to its fourth home and I’m hoping, as I have with each of the previous three, that Arvixe will be different.

While the other three were certainly different from each other in many respects, each of the experiences followed a similar pattern. They were small companies started by young and energetic entrepreneurs. There were few, if any, employees. Each company and its owner were essentially one and the same. They delivered good value and good service and developed good reputations. They got mentioned in forums and reviews where folks like me might go shopping for a web host and their business grew. They might have a few more problems than the big guys and it might take them a little longer to fix them but problems did eventually get fixed and the prices were enough below those of the big guys to justify an occasional extra hiccup.

But companies dependent on single individuals are fragile. Maybe the business outgrows the owner’s organizational skills, or maybe illness or other personal issues interfere, or maybe the owner moves on or just loses interest. Whatever the reason, service can start deteriorating and the stories appearing in forums and reviews can become decidedly less positive. That happened with all three of the companies I’ve had experience with and many, probably thousands, of others.

Web hosting is a fairly easy business to get into. A server can be rented in a big data center for not a whole lot of money and with few qualifications. I don’t doubt that more than a few technical hotshots jumped into the pool with a less than thorough business plan. There are loads of horror stories much worse than anything I’ve encountered. In fact, each of my three former hosts were quite satisfactory for a fair amount of time.

I did my first road trip journal in 1999 on some space provided by my ISP. When I realized the journal was not a one time thing, I registered a domain name and signed on for some web space with a company in the Chicago area named Stargate. That was in early 2001 and they kept me happy for two years. In early 2003 I moved to Solidinternet operating out of Australia but with servers in the US. I stayed with them nearly six years. As I recall, Stargate was run by a husband and wife with a couple of (possibly part time) employees. Solidinternet was run by an individual and a few (probably part time) employees. My most recent host, eVerity, where I just passed the five year mark, is run by an individual with, as near as I can tell, no employees. I have had only a few problems with eVerity and even now have none that are website related. I have been, however, experiencing problems with email and I see the sluggish or non-existent response to those as a sign that the downward spiral has begun.

I had started shopping but was well short of a decision when persistent email problems and unanswered tickets forced my hand. In addition to the normal price & feature criteria, this time company size figured into my choice. I had identified a half dozen companies that could meet my needs at reasonable cost and I quickly narrowed that to one based largely on forum posts and reviews just as I’d done before. There were a couple of other things that helped, too. One was the quick and friendly manner in which my pre-sales questions were answered at Arvixe and another was the fact that their support forum had questions — and answers — from today rather than last year and that those answers came from multiple people.

The move went quite smoothly and it looks like the name server changes have been propagated to most of the world. Everything I’ve looked at is working but I’ve yet to try a blog post and a newsletter to see if the generated email makes it. That’s where most of my recent problems nave appeared. This is the blog post and a newsletter will soon follow.

Spam, Spam, Eggs, and Spam

Monty Python spam skitA 2005 survey reported that people were spending an average of 2.8 minutes a day deleting email spam. Whether that was for the entire US population, the 75% of internet users they reported receiving spam messages daily, or some other group is unclear. Regardless of who was doing the deleting, the survey went on to state that the resulting loss in productivity was costing $21.6 billion dollars a year. My search failed to turn up more recent statistics although I imagine they’re out there. Or maybe not. Maybe the statisticians are now too busy deleting spam to conduct surveys.

I believe I’ve deleted my share. There have been times when, between work and personal email, I’ve had 200+ spam messages to deal with each day. Of course I had some filtering in place but the fear of having a critical communique erroneously identified as spam meant scanning the junk folder for messages from colleagues or customers. Eventually, as the quality of and my confidence in anti-spam software increased, I was able to configure things so that the vast majority of those messages were quietly and automatically done in by the software without me hearing the screams or needing to move the bodies. I know the amount of spam email pointed my way didn’t actually decrease but I was protected from the bad-guy software by some good-guy software.

I’m now at a similar point in dealing with comment spam. Comment spam doesn’t come through an email account. It comes, as the name indicates, through comments on blogs and forums and such. Much email spam is just silly but some of it is truly malicious or criminal; intent on doing damage or stealing something. Same thing with comment spam with one big twist. Reader comments can actually become part of the content of the site on which they are entered. This means that any malicious or criminal links contained in the comment are now available to the whole world wide web. They are usually surrounded by such inane drivel that it’s hard to imagine anyone ever clicking on them but I suppose it happens. I’ve little sympathy for any English speaker who clicks on a link surrounded by Russian or Portuguese or even the broken English gibberish that seems to be the norm.

Comment spam, at least in theory, can have value to its producer even if no one ever clicks on embedded links. Search engines do consider links to a website in establishing that site’s rank. Apparently lots of spammers believe that getting a pointer to some site on a blog with absolutely no other connection to the site will boost its rank. I feel that’s pretty much a myth though I don’t really know that. I do know that search engines are not dumb. Spammers, it seems, are.

To date, no comment spam has actually appeared on this blog. It has appeared briefly in the site’s guestbook and in the now deceased forum. In the case of the guestbook, I get email notification and it’s so infrequent that I simply manually delete it ASAP. That is usually within a few hours; Often within a few minutes. With the forum, I initially allowed comments by guests but switched that to members only when spam started to appear. Of course, with the forum completely removed, that’s all just history.

From the blog’s beginning, I’ve employed the simple but effective technique of requiring everyone’s first post to be approved by me. That keeps the spam from appearing on the blog without hampering folks I trust. I recently went one step further by installing the AntispamBee plugin. Without this, I had to manually mark each qualifying post as spam. Not a big job but one I could avoid and avoiding work is always attractive. At present, all suspicious comments are placed in a folder where I can look them over before dumping them down the cyberdrain. The big plus is that my email is not cluttered with requests to moderate every piece of crap that this way comes. It has been in place for about a week and hasn’t misidentified anything so far. Assuming that continues, I’ll probably turn on the automatic disposal in another week or two.

My blog spam snapshotIt was the pending “loss” of these comments that prompted this post. Most are just aggravating but a few are hilarious. They are almost always filled with praise in hopes, I assume, of winning my approval but the typical message is such a jumble that I can’t imagine even the most desperate ego succumbing. Like newspaper horoscopes, the messages never mention anything specific about the post they are supposedly responding to. The majority appear to be from Russia, Eastern Europe, and Brazil. There have been a few bulk posts. A bunch once showed up pushing a particular brand of shoe and there were a couple bursts touting some dress label. At one point I received quite a few from someone in Brazil saying they would “adore to reveal” something (a Portuguese word I’ve yet to find a translation for) “in web cam”.

I’m closing with three of my favorites:

Among the finest to tell a person that i’m simply brand new in order to blogging and definitely liked you are web site. Probably I will save your website . You certainly have outstanding articles. Kudos with regard to sharing around your blog.

I be aware like Im constantly looking by cause associated with inviting things to pore more than close by a number of subjects, but I be successful to include your own set up among my personal reads each and every life time since you give delivery in order to compelling records that I appear forth to.

Thanks for the information, I rarely like it.

Feedburner? Fuhgeddaboudit.

Two months ago, when this blog was just a couple of weeks old, I made a post confessing to underestimating the power of a WordPress plug-in to provide email notifications. In this one, I’m confessing to overestimating the ability of Feedburner to do it. Technically, I suppose I didn’t actually overestimate its abilities but I think I overestimated its dependability and relevance. At the time of that first confession, I switched to the plug-in and stopped promoting Feedburner. I didn’t worry about any subscriptions already in place and assumed they would just keep going. That assumption was reinforced by the fact that my own test subscription continued to work. I was in “set it and forget it” mode regarding Feedburner.

Then, just a few days ago, I was doing some general website maintenance and decided to look in on my Feedburner account. It must still be there — at least one subscription is working — but I can’t login to it. Google bought Feedburner back in 2007 so you would think that all the “moving” associated with the change in owners had occurred long before I came along in 2011. Guess not. is redirected to a Google address where I am invited to “Claim your feeds now” and I’ve tried. One needs to submit one’s Feedburner username and password to do that and I’m told that those I’m submitting are “incorrect”. My note keeping isn’t the best and my memory’s worse so I suppose that’s possible. But when I enter an email address to recover my forgotten password, I’m told it is “not found”. I’m pretty sure I know my own email address so I’m suddenly not so ready to believe that all of the problem is all on my side of the screen.

Google offers some FAQ style “help” for Feedburner but there is no contact information for support. Of course, actually reaching support for anything Google related is a challenge but Google does provide forums where we can “talk among ourselves”. They are divided by product or service and there are more than forty of them. There is one for “Web Search”, and for “Toolbar”, “Picasa”, “Google Earth”, and so on. Tellingly, there is none for Feedburner. Using that Google “Web Search” thing to dig around the internet turned up several indications that Google’s acquisition of Feedburner may not have been such a good thing for Feedburner users.

I’m sorry. Had I initially understood that I could provide email notification of posts directly, I’d never have embraced Feedburner. Now I can’t even login to let go. Plus I have no faith that any Feedburner subscription other than my own is working. At least one certainly is not.

I recalled that long time trip report reader (and sometimes much appreciated proofreader) Laurel Kane had subscribed following my first blog post. At that time I could still login to Feedburner so I’m pretty sure things started off OK. I dropped Laurel a note and learned that she hadn’t seen email from my blog for a long time. I know that there were only four or five subscribers back when I could see my Feedburner account and I doubt that any have been added since I dropped the link from the blog page. If, by some strange means, any of those are still working, I strongly suggest unsubscribing. I am officially announcing that The Blog At Denny G’s Road Trips and Feedburner are no longer pals.

Anyone desiring email notification of new blog posts, should enter their address in the field to the right of this blog’s home page and hit “Subscribe”. That’s regardless of whether you were an original Feedburner subscriber or not.

I’ve been kind of struggling with the relationship between this blog and the trip reports. Here is what I’m currently thinking. The blog is not confined to road trips. I intend to post to the blog at least once a week on Sunday. I want to have a blog post associated with each trip or oddment to provide a place to comment on that trip or oddment. To date, when I’ve been on the road on a Sunday, I’ve posted something trip related as a sort of placeholder. This has resulted in multiple blog posts for a trip and some are rather silly. From now on, each Sunday post will be a “real” one and each trip or oddment will get a single post. If something occurs during the week that I think interesting and I have time to write it up, that will be the Sunday post. If not, I’ll use a canned article like those in the “My Gear” series. When a trip starts on a Sunday, there just might be two posts for that day. I’ve always said that once a week was the lower not upper limit.

A Better (IMO) Email Approach

I wasn’t really satisfied with the end-of-day mailing provided by FeedBurner but I convinced myself that it was the best available. I have since learned of a way to offer real-time mailings on every post and I’ve now made that available. What some could see as a negative is that this newly installed method will send only a pure text excerpt of the post with no pictures. I see that as yet another advantage.

People with less than whippy quick Internet connections don’t like being surprised by large emails and, when traveling, I am often one of those people. At those times, getting a short message that lets me know something exists then lets me access it on my own schedule is much preferred. With this change, I am now emailing unto others as I would like to be emailed.

Since there is no reason to kill them, the FeedBurner feeds will remain and existing subscriptions will continue to function. However, new FeedBurrner subscriptions, can only be made through this site’s FeedBurner page. Email subscriptions entered through the blog will now be to the new mechanism which will deliver a pure text excerpt of each new entry shortly after it is posted. If you want to switch, just unsubscribe from FeedBurner and subscribe here.

EDIT 30-Oct-2011: Although existing Feedburner subscriptions may or may not continue to function. no longer actively supports Feedburmer and the subscription page referenced in the preceding paragraph no longer exists.

I have also added links for the Entries and Comments RSS feeds simply to make their existence a little more apparent. The Entries RSS currently contains the full post but I’m a little uncomfortable with that. I opted for publishing the full post rather than a summary because that’s what nearly, but not quite, all of the blogs I’ve subscribed to do. I’m now having second thoughts. Even though I subscribe to those blogs via RSS, it is funneled through Outlook and eventually looks a lot like email. Of course, an RSS feed converted to email looks exactly like email because that’s what it is. There have been a few times when I’ve turned off RSS feeds because of a slow connection so I’m feeling a little guilty about larger than necessary RSS entries and am tempted to switch to just publishing summaries. FeedBurner emails have contained the full posts simply because they are just a repackaging of the RSS feed so changing the RSS will change FeedBurner. If anyone has any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them.

The new email mechanism is a WordPress plug-in called “Subscribe2”. I’d looked at it when I first set up this blog but erroneously decided that it wouldn’t work for me. When I asked a cyber-friend what he was using on an installation similar to mine, that’s the answer I got and a second look revealed my error. Note that I said the installation was similar to mine; Not the blog itself. The Civil War Daily Gazette is about 1000% better than this blog will ever be and is a tremendous source of Civil War information. There is a new well written and researched post every day telling of events exactly 150 years ago. I suggest that anyone with even a little interest in America’s Civil War take a look.

Hello again, world.

Two very legitimate and possibly obvious questions are “Why a blog?” and “How is that different from what you’ve been doing?” I probably can’t answer either of those questions to everyone’s satisfaction but I’m going to try by tackling the “How…?” question first.

I never refer to as a blog. I know some people do and I’m OK with that but my idea of a blog is something different. Web stuff does not need to be produced by things like WordPress or Blogger to be a blog but the stuff that WordPress and Blogger produce are certainly blogs. In my view, if it looks like something that could have come from WordPress or Blogger it might be a blog. If it doesn’t, it probably isn’t. My trip reports definitely have some similarities with blogs. The biggest one being that both have chronological entries. But a multi-day trip report at is treated as a unit and tied together with a “cover page”. If it’s big enough, there might also be some other pages related to just that trip. Maybe you see the difference and maybe not. The truth is that there is no rigid definition of the word “blog” that precisely distinguishes what I’ve been doing from what Gizmodo has been doing so it’s a good thing that I’m not trying to convince you that I haven’t been blogging but just explain why I don’t think I have.

What I’ve just added and what you’re now reading is clearly a blog. It qualifies as “something that could have come from WordPress” by coming from WordPress. It will have a single chronological flow of entries which will be archived monthly and which can be commented on. That last bit is starting to get at the “Why…?”.

Ever since that first reported trip in 1999, I’ve looked for ways to interact with readers. I received some emails throughout that trip which led to some one-on-one conversations and that made me want something more. In 2002 I added a guestbook. People could post and I could answer but the conversation either ended with that single exchange or became one-on-one and private. A forum seemed like a good idea so I added one just before my 2003 Route 66 trip. There was some initial interest and some folks signed up but there was very little activity. I retired it not long after I returned home. I tried again in early 2010. Again there was some interest and even a small flurry of activity though it soon faded. The forum is still there but it’s been more than seven months since anyone other than me has posted. A blog won’t permit others to start conversations but it will permit them to comment on ones I’ve started and it may be more familiar and accessible. I haven’t removed the forum yet but I intend to shortly.

The other “accessories” will stay. Namely the guestbook, the newsletter, and the home page RSS feed. There’s already some overlap there, especially between the newsletter and RSS feed. Now there will be some more. On the other hand, some misuse should go away. Both the newsletter and the RSS feed were intended to be ways that people could learn of road trip related activity without repeatedly visiting the site to see if something had changed. But I’ve used them for decidedly non-road trip stuff, like web server issues, because there was nothing else. Now this blog should handle things of that sort and the feed and the newsletter should be left to their intended function.

Most of the overlap between the newsletter and the RSS feed is intentional. The newsletter came first and when I added the feed I received some email from concerned and potentially disgruntled subscribers asking if they had to change. They remained gruntled when I assured them that I was definitely keeping the newsletter and was merely giving them another option. I hope to do the same with the blog. RSS is automatically produced by WordPress but email is not nearly as natural. For that, I’ve gone to FeedBurner, a service that lets people sign up to receive RSS feeds via email. A widget was available for subscriptions to the blog’s post feed and I included it. To make that work, I had to register the feed at FeedBurner and I registered the site’s other feeds as well. Those are the existing RSS feed from the home page and the blog’s comment feed. A new page, accessible here and through the “FBurner” link on the home page, supports signing up for email delivery of any or all of the three feeds. FeedBurner delivers email once a day so any “real-time” aspects of the original RSS feed will be lost but it’s there if you want it. As previously mentioned, FeedBurner email of the blog’s post feed can be subscribed to on the blog’s main page plus email of comments on individual posts can be subscribed to via the post itself. Of course, all RSS feeds can be subscribed to directly through any reader you may be familiar with.

EDIT 9-Jan-2016: As of October 2011, no longer actively supports Feedburmer and the subscription page referenced in the preceding paragraph no longer exists. This edit finally makes note of that and removes the obsolete link.

The most important thing to stay is everything else. I am not changing the way I do trip reports or post photos. I’m merely adding something new to the site and you can completely ignore it without missing a thing. Oops, that’s not exactly what I meant to say. Hopefully I’ll have some things in the blog that are worth reading but you can ignore it without missing anything you’re seeing now.

Blogs should be fed regularly and I hope to feed this one at least once a week My goal is to have something posted every Sunday sometime between noon and midnight. See you next week.