Archive for the ‘How-To’ category

I just fixed your computer.

July 21, 2013

Hello.

I just spent about six hours fixing your computer. It was infected with several viruses, about two dozen bits of malware, and more than one thousand individual malicious registry keys, cookies, and Internet Explorer add-ons.  No, I’m not exaggerating.

As a part of this process, I did the following things:

1. I ran no fewer than five different virus and malware scanners. Each one found different infections.

2. I installed WinPatrol, SuperAntiSpyware, and Microsoft Security Essentials, each of which will monitor your PC and help to prevent future infections.

3. I installed a HOSTS file, to prevent any malicious connections.

4. I installed Google Chrome and made it the default browser. I also set the homepage to this blog entry, so you could see what I did.

Now, to prevent this from ever happening again, I have some advice to offer:

1. Stop downloading stuff.

If a program pops up offering to fix your PC, never ever click “Yes”. You had at least two of these installed. Often as not, these are themselves viruses by definition, and they’re hard as hell to get rid of. If you didn’t specifically go looking for it, do not install it!

If you see an offer for software that will make your internet experience better, don’t install it. It’s lying.

If you see a new toolbar, don’t install it. It won’t help you.

See a new search utility? Don’t install it. It’s just running google in the background anyway.

Seeing a pattern? Stop downloading stuff.

2. Use Google Chrome to browse the web. Stop using Internet Explorer right now. Here’s why.

3. Never play games or accept app invitations on Facebook. At least two of the infections on your PC were related to a Facebook app. No kidding, Facebook is not your friend. You’ve got better things to be doing with your time anyway.

Summary

Viruses and malware don’t just happen. They’re like vampires: you have to invite them in. Every virus I cleaned today was the result of a browser helper, toolbar, search utility, web helper, or Facebook app that you installed by downloading something.

Stop downloading stuff. Really.

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Creating a Google-Friendly Website

June 23, 2010

Creating a Google-Friendly Website:

As I do this for a living, I thought I’d offer a simple list for anyone who could derive some benefit from the advice.

Disclaimer: the advice I offer here is based upon a great deal of research and personal and professional experience, but lest you misunderstand my intentions, I’m not inviting debate. There are a great many opinions about how Google works since no one outside the company actually knows, and thus you may feel inclined to disagree with my recommendations. Be my guest.  You have a blog of your own, I’m sure.

Late edit: there are some clarifications inline.

Let us begin.

For the record, merely having many visitors to your website isn’t going to help your rankings. Google can’t read your visitor count – nor would you want them to.

To increase your Google ranking, your site needs two things: relevance and importance. In this article I will detail how to achieve both in the eyes of Google.

Step One: decide how you want people to find your site. In other words: if you make flowerpots and want your business to come from Kansas City, then you want people searching on the words “flowerpot” and “kansas city” to find you. If you want flowers in there, too, add “flowers” to your list. People searching for “flowerpot kansas” will also find you.

Note: “flowers” is not the same as “flower”. Google search results will eventually connect those dots, but it will only be after the “flowers” entries are exhausted and so won’t help you. Same goes for “flowerpot” and “flower”. Google doesn’t search in words; not, at least, for results it returns on the first page.

Step Two: make sure your key words are in your TITLE, DESCRIPTION, and CONTENT. Of the three, the last is the most important.

TITLE: A “meta” tag that lives in the head section of your webpage HTML markup.  It appears as the text in the bar at the top of your browser, which is also used when someone bookmarks your page. In our example, the title of the homepage should read something like, “Marvin’s Garden, Flowerpots, Kansas City Missouri. Flowerpots, Flowers, Floral”.

DESCRIPTION: A “meta” tag that lives in the head section of your webpage HTML markup.  It is not visible to the end user: it describes your page in human readable terms. Google displays the description, if there is one, just below the title of the page in search results. It should also include your key words. Something like:

“Marvin’s Garden is a full service nursery in Kansas City, Missouri. We feature flowers, flowerpots, floral and garden supplies for the amateur and professional gardener. Spring flowers are in bloom, so brighten your home and garden today. We have sales going on right now on flower and vegetable seeds.”

In that description I’ve done several things: I’ve gotten my primary key words in there; I’ve added a few more to broaden my prospects; I’ve managed to put each key word in at least once, sometimes twice, and with variations; it’s gramatically correct and reads like normal text; and I’ve added a call to action to the potential customer.

CONTENT: Not a “meta” tag: this is the most important element of the three: the stuff on the pages that people read. Google rates pages based on relevance to the search terms, and it counts relevance by “key word density”, in other words, the number of times a search term appears in textual content on a given page.

The trick is to not over-do. If you write a paragraph where more than, say, 10% of the words are the same search terms over and over:

“We’ve got flowerpots, and pots of flowers, and more flowerpots, with clay flowerpots, and plastic flowerpots, and even metal flowerpots…”

Google will reject that content as being spammy and penalize your site with a lower ranking. The content can read like sales copy, that’s fine, but it must also be reasonable.

KEYWORDS. There’s a reason I haven’t addressed this, the most popular of methods to drive search traffic. The “keywords” META tag is in the same class as the TITLE and DESCRIPTION tags, with one notable exception: GOOGLE DOESN’T USE THE KEYWORD TAG AND NEVER HAS. Neither does MSN. Yahoo! does, but exactly how is hard to determine. Go ahead and fill the KEYWORD tag, it won’t hurt, but don’t count on it.

If you have a retail site where adding content is tough in context, here’s what you do: add links to your homepage to other pages on your site that have that content. When I had Seamlyne.com, I moved my ranking from the middle of page 2 to the first or second link on the first page with one simple change: I added two links to the homepage, an FAQ and a “Fun with Tights” page. On each page, I made sure my key words (tights, codpiece, renaissance) were used at least twice. I also added “news” to the homepage that changed every other week or so.

So, now we have a handle on relevance in Google: if your site is relevant for a key word, that key word will be in the content about 10% of the words. The content will change every so often, so Google assumes the site is active.

Now, to increase your site’s importance, you need back links, which is to say, links to your site from other sites. Set up reciprocal links with like-minded webmasters.

I never back-linked any other site on Seamlyne, especially for other retailers. Once a customer is on my site why make it easy to leave? That’s what my Seamlyne teaching site was for: that sucker was back-linked on at least a dozen sites, and it, in turn, linked to the retail site. I would write articles in Google groups, and make sure to reference the website.

On the subject of Flash:

Don’t create your entire website in Flash. Just don’t. Google can’t read it except under special circumstances, and if your viewers have Flash turned off (I frequently disable it for speed of browsing), they won’t be able to see your site.

Flash is best used for elements on your website – animated headers and such – to make the page interesting, but it should never, EVER, EVER be the whole site.

If you must create a Flash website, you should also create a traditional HTML version and link to using text from your homepage. You must give Google something to follow. Even the Flash official website doesn’t use Flash. That should tell you something.

By the way, all of this applies for websites comprised entirely of images. Just re-read the last section and substitute “images” for “Flash”, and you’ll get the point.

So, how do I know what my site looks like to Google and other search engines?

Easy. Go here: YellowPipe Lynx Viewer

Enter your URL. You will be presented with a version of your website as a browser called “Lynx” views it: all text based, no images, no multimedia. This is by and large what Google sees.

If you’d like to have Lynx on your Windows PC, the best version you can download is here. It’s the Japanese SourceForge site, but the default language for the package is English.

Some random bullets:

Write articles in flowerpot related groups on Google groups, and link back to your website. Better yet, link back to a page on your website where you write in some detail about your article’s topic.

Start a blog on WordPress or Blogspot about flowerpots, and link back to your website. Better yet, link back to a page on your website where you write in some detail about your blog post’s topic.

Finally, stop using “click here” as an enticement to click. Instead of:

To learn more about flowerpots, click here

try

Kansas City gardeners love our flowerpots

Extra credit if you can now tell why that’s better 🙂

VPN, OR Non-technical people making technical decisions

December 29, 2009

Let’s begin honestly: this is an introduction for AceVPN.com.

I recently had a friend from Germany ask me about VPN services. She misses American TV shows, and wants to watch them over the internet, but for her many of those sites are blocked.  Since the supposedly reputable ones cost money, could I make any recommendations?

My understanding of VPN was something like Terminal Services for Windows, and didn’t include getting around regional or corporate restrictions: it simply never occurred to me.

A couple of weeks ago, my partners at work started talking about putting in a hardware firewall to restrict access to things like Facebook – ridiculous since at our largest we’ll never have more than ten people, and there are only three of us now! Yes, Facebook can be a time waster, but it’s also a resource for me: I often post technical questions for my many techie friends who are also on Facebook.

I may very well need one of these services in the future, myself.

I found several VPN services through a Google search, but as I have no experience with any, it’s tough to recommend. The prices are all comparable, within $10US or so of each other. Once I’ve reached the point where one orange looks like another orange, I change my criteria.

Is the company honest about what is on offer – basically an end-run around network restrictions, or do they hem and haw around the issue? Does the service look like it caters to someone like me, an individual who wants safer, anonymous, more secure browsing?

Does the website look like it was written by a meth addict, with content all over the screen? If so, imagine what the customer service must be like.

Does the website use correct, idiomatic English, which suggests one of  two things: either the company is honestly an American company, or the company cared enough to hire a good translator. (I found one website that claimed to be American, but the website copy was full of past/present-tense errors, indicative that it was written by a non-native speaker, or someone who’s just bloody stupid.)

I also look for articles like “The Five Best VPN Services for 2009”, or some such, and then I read the comments: that’s where the real information is. At the bottom of this article, a couple of readers suggested AceVPN.com.

I visited the AceVPN.com website. The copy is written well, using good English. The design is no-nonsense and easy to navigate. Their services are comparable and prices are very reasonable.

This is a site I’m bookmarking for future use…which will most likely be  just a few minutes after the new firewall is installed at work.

Finally.

April 10, 2009

After more issues that I care to deal with again, I’m burning DVDs. As it turns out, I have to split the video between two discs since the whole three hour session came to just over 9gb, and I don’t have any double-sided discs.

That’s okay though. I’m seeing the end of this project, finally.

TMPGEnc was just the software I needed, though after first use it started throwing errors – or rather, vsfilter.dll started throwing errors. I haven’t had time to really investigate and a cursory Google search turned up – surpise! – nothing. Okay, next to nothing. The only “solution” I found wasn’t really a solution, insofar as it didn’t work. Again, that’s okay. When this project is over, I’ll have time to investigate further.

The summary is that by tomorrow morning’s Easter festivities at church, I’ll have two discs – the second is in the burner right this minute – to give the pastor, and we can call this one done.  I need to invoice the church, even if it’s all donated: I want to know, come year’s end, exactly what I did this year.

OK, this is getting stupid.

April 9, 2009

I won’t lie to you: I’m a DIY videographer. Having shot my last reel back when Super-8 Kodachrome 40 was still available from Fotomat and Ektochrome 160 was all the rage, I’m playing catch-up. I admit it. But this is nuts.

Let’s begin with a quote: “I don’t want it good. I want it Tuesday.” Jack Warner.

The Church Video Project

I realize this is all growing pains. As I learn new tools and techniques and figure out what each piece of software does this will get much easier, but damn, folks. Who do I have to fuck to get this 16:9 DV project to render to elemental streams (m2v and mp2/wav) I can actually work with?

The first render blew up after six hours. Actually, the Adobe Premiere process just quit. Vanished. I’d have never known if I wasn’t looking at the screen at the time.

The second render, in five 1/2-hour pieces from Adobe Premiere, wouldn’t work because the DVD authoring software wouldn’t stitch the pieces together, and there was a slight delay while switching from one to the next.

Okay, so I’ve got a half-dozen different video conversion programs on my PC. I rendered to AVI – Premiere will do that to any length apparently – and started going through the options.

AVIDemux. No good. If they made a software called AVIMux without the “de” I’d have had better luck. For future reference: muxing is the process of breaking a video/audio stream into two “elemental” streams. Demuxing is the process of combining two into one. Plus, the damn software is written by the open source community, so the documentation is – to be charitable – shit.

Oh yeah: muxing is just a geeky way of saying multiplexing, and is presumably easier to say around a mouthful of Doritos and Diet Pepsi.

Handbrake. Nope. That rips DVDs to AVI.

MPEG Video Wizard. Nope. Same as Handbrake, just a whole lot less friendly.

Super ©. Shittiest software ever.

VSO. Only slightly behind Super ©.

It would seem I’m the only person on the planet who uses DVDLab Pro for DVD authoring since there’s precious little to Google when you start having difficulties.

Finally, deep in a video help website, someone mentions TMPGEnc (which supposedly is short for Tsunami MPG Encoder) in the same paragraph with the words “elemental streams.” Feeling a little out of breath with anticipation I break out Utorrent and pull the sucker down.

Sure enough, it worked.

It’s taken two more attempts – at twelve hours apiece – to render the project properly. TMPGEnc doesn’t read the aspect ratio from the source file and defaults to 4:3 output. My first render using the software was usable but the wrong aspect ratio. I think I’ve got it now. I’ll know in seven hours.

(And just so you don’t think I’m a total moron, I did all my testing using a fifteen second snippet, not the whole two and three-quarter hour seminar.)