Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Can an online petition save Garden Station?

Folks in Dayton are upset about the possible demise of Garden Station, a community garden on abandoned land by the railroad bridge on Wayne Avenue between Third and Fifth Streets. That land, owned by the City of Dayton, was leased to the group that runs Garden Station for $10/year through 2015 with an option to extend through 2020, but with the caveat that the city could “terminate the lease in the event that the property is needed for a future development project.” Now there are reports that the city may have a developer for the land, and people are clamouring to save Garden Station.

One way in which Garden Station supporters are organizing is, of course, via their Facebook group, which currently has 2,983 “likes.” For an idea of how significant 2,983 FB likes are, read my posts about Occupy Dayton and its Facebook page, in which I compare Occupy Dayton’s 5,000+ “likes” with the population of Montgomery County.

Another way Garden Station is gathering support is through a petition on Change.org.

Some Change.org petitions have been successful. NPR has a story about successful petitions to get Bank of America not to charge a $5 monthly debit card fee and to get felony charges against an autistic child who slapped her teacher dropped. The Bank of America petition had 306,892 signatures. The petition in support of the autistic student had only 1,195 signatures.

Garden Station’s petition has just over 1,800 signatures. That doesn’t seem like a lot, especially when you consider that 11,420 people live in ZIP code 45402 (which contains Garden Station) and 15,339 people live in ZIP code 45410 (close to Garden Station). Over five times as many people (9,985) voted in this May’s mayoral primary Post on Facebook urging folks to sign the Garden Station petitionas have signed the Garden Station petition, and that election has a really small turnout (almost 18,000 people voted for each of the two city commission winners in the November 2011 election).

I signed the Garden Station petition shortly after it was started on June 27th and have since been keeping an eye on it. It took four days to get 1,000 signatures. This past Sunday, six days after breaking 1,000, the petition had only just over 1,300 signatures, which I noted in a comment on David Esrati’s blog post about Garden Station, where I said it looked like the petition had lost momentum. Coincidentally also on Sunday there was a post on the Garden Station FB page urging Update 7/13/2013: Well they didn’t make their goal of 2,000 by the 7/10 commission meeting but did finally get to 2,000 today.

Update 7/26/2013: Okay, 13 days after my last update, this petition now has exactly 2,100 signatures. Looks like it’s petered out.

Update 8/5/2013: 10 days after my last update the petition is up to 2,112 signatures. 12 signatures in 10 days. I’d say the petition’s done.

Update 8/19/2013: 2,119 signatures, about 1 signature every other day. The Garden Station Facebook page is up to 3,073 “likes” (up from 2,983 when I wrote this post)—people can click a “like” button but can’t be bothered to sign an electronic petition, I guess.
that people continue to share the petition in order to get 2,000 signatures by tomorrow’s city commission meeting, and sure enough in the past two days they’ve gotten 500 more signatures, so they might make that goal.

Will that be enough, though? I wouldn’t have thought so before doing a little research in preparing this blog post and learning about the 1,195-person petition in support of the autistic student. In my mind 2,000 signatures—many of which are from people who don’t even live in the city of Dayton (one of today’s signers is from Suwanee, GA)—wouldn’t be enough to sway the city commission.

Something I do find interesting about the petition is that not even all of the 2,983 people who “like” Garden Station on Facebook have signed the petition. It’s one thing not to be able to get a majority of the folks who voted in the last primary to sign the petition or a majority of the folks who live in Garden Station’s ZIP code to sign the petition, but to not be able to get all of Garden Station’s Facebook fans to sign the petition is kind of sad.

You might think that signing the petition would be the least you can do, but no, actually clicking “like” on Facebook is the least you can do without doing nothing; signing a petition requires typing your name and contact info. Right now there are about 1,100 people who like Garden Station enough to click a button on Facebook but not enough to sign a petition.

Why did I sign the petition if I didn’t think it would do any good? Partly because a friend asked me to and I thought it was the least I could do. I wasn’t motivated to write a letter or make a phone call, but signing a petition I was willing to do. I’m not against Garden Station (although I’ve never stopped by). I think the city has enough vacant land that they could give this small parcel to the Garden Station group instead of evicting them.

Thinking about the Garden Station petition made me think of another petition I signed this year, the petition asking Google not to kill Google Reader, a petition that, believe it or not, people are still signing. I looked today and 5 more people have signed, bringing the total to 153,814 signatures. Talk about tilting at windmills! I didn’t have much hope that Google would change their minds about Reader when I signed the petition when I first found out about it, but come on, why would anyone sign the Google Reader petition now? There’s no way Google, having carried out their promise to kill Reader, will bring it back now. Signing a petition may be about the least you can do, but signing the Google Reader petition now is just stupid.

As for Garden Station and its petition, I don’t know what the outcome will be. I won’t be surprised if a city that lets decades-old trees on its downtown levees be chopped down also decides to kill a community garden in the hopes that a developer will make better use of the land.

However, I also think that the Garden Station supporters, although comparatively small in number, have some motivated folks in their midst—after all, unlike the Occupy Dayton folks, the Garden Station people managed to get a lease on some land and to develop a garden with regular events and a functional website and a Facebook presence. Somehow, if the online petition fails to impress Dayton’s city commission, I think the Garden Station folks will be back with additional activism.

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

An anti-Obama Dodge driver

The owner of this black Dodge 4x4 truck, Ohio license DK35RC, would very much like you to know of his disapproval of President Obama:

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Proven SEO Stategy and SEO Results

From: Jane R. Villarreal info@janervillarreal.mygbiz.com
To: David Lauri david@davidlauri.com
Date: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 5:02 AM
Subject: Proven SEO Strategy and SEO Results

While doing some research on your industry I have come across your site www.davidlauri.com and decided to run an analysis on your competition and your current search rankings. I’m very impressed with your company, but there are some real opportunities for growth that you currently are missing.

Would you like to understand several strategies used for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) which have lead to better traffic, driving higher sales, increased leads and more revenue! We are rated as one of the top SEO and digital marketing companies in the US. In 20 minutes I can show you how to fuel your brand and generate more revenue from search engines and social networks.

All I’d like to do is follow up this with a quick phone call and see if we can arrange a time where you can see how this works online in real time. Can I call you this week to discuss your campaign?

Thank you
Best regards,
Jane R. Villarreal
2719 Romrog Way, Grand Island, NE 68801.

I get shit like this all the time, both regarding my personal website and my employer’s website. Someone must actually pay for SEO services from “top SEO companies” who send out SPAM like this, because these SPAMmers wouldn’t do this if they didn’t earn any money from it, but really, how stupid are the people who respond to these emails?

As you already know, davidlauri.com is not the website for a business. I don’t have any competitors. And my website is already the top search result for my name.

But these SEO SPAMmers don’t care. They just know I have a website and that david@davidlauri.com is my email address. (Yes, yes, if I really cared, I’d try to hide my email address, but it’s been out there a long time, and Gmail has pretty good SPAM filters, though one or two SEO SPAMs do get through every day or so.)

A funny thing about SEO SPAM is that for my employer the SPAM is addressed to our “info@xxx.xxx” address. If these SEO SPAMmers cared about any pretense, they’d at least look at our staff listing to figure out who’s responsible for our website (hint: me).

Earlier this week I found out that SEO SPAMmers also try to pitch their services via cold calls. Our receptionist let such a call get through to me. Usually she’s pretty good about screening calls, but this time someone asked to talk to whoever was in charge of our website, and our receptionist just transfered the call. An Indian woman launches into her spiel after first asking if I was in charge of our website. I said no thanks and hung up on her.

Here’s the deal: If you can’t find out from the info on our website who is in charge of our website, you’ve no business talking to the person in charge of our website.

Besides which anyone who pays for SEO services is stupid.

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

P/R via good works

Okay, since I was rather negative about David Esrati’s chances of winning a city commission seat after he squeaked by in the May runoff, it’s only fair that I say something now that Esrati’s done something I like.

What’s Esrati just done that I like? He’s launched a fun campaign around cleaning up Dayton’s basketball courts. He got barber shops and beauty salons around town to sponsor nets, and then he went out to do the work of cleaning up basketball courts and putting up new nets, capturing it all on video.

You can see the video below:

I’m still not convinced that Esrati can move up from fourth out of five commission candidates in May to one of the two who will win seats in November, but when Esrati does positive campaigning, showing what he can do instead of focusing on others’ negatives, it makes me like him more. That can’t hurt.

Friday, July 26th, 2013

I’m even more dubious about “apologies” from ex-gay ministers

“Apologies” from staffers of Exodus as it “shuts down” seem to be all the rage now.

Last month, the president of Exodus, Alan Chambers, announced the closing of that ex-gay ministry and issued an apology of sorts. However, Chambers was very clear that he was not “apologiz[ing] for [his] deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries [he] see[s] in scripture surrounding sex” or “for [his] beliefs about marriage.” My response to Chambers’ apology was profane.

Randy Thomas
Randy Thomas of Exodus, another ex-gay issuing a vague apology to teh gayz
This month Exodus’s executive vice president, Randy Thomas, released “An Open Apology to the Gay Community.” Thomas’s apology is interesting both for what it says and what it does not say.

Thomas explicitly apologizes “for idealizing and reinforcing the institutional groupthink of Exodus,” “for remaining publicly silent about the hurt caused by some of Exodus’ leaders and actions,” and “for [his] inexperienced participation in public policy.”

Unlike Chambers, Thomas does not make any specific exclusions in his apology. He doesn’t say that he cannot apologize for his Biblical beliefs or for his views on marriage.

Another difference between Thomas’s apology and Chambers’ is that Chambers’ apology on the Exodus website did not allow for comments while Thomas’s apology on his own website did allow for comments. And Thomas got plenty of comments, so many that today he announced that comments on his blog would be moderated.

I was someone who commented on Thomas’s apology post. Unlike with my own blog post in response to Alan Chambers (in which I told Chambers to just shut the fuck up!), I was not profane in my comment on Thomas’s blog. I simply said that I didn’t put much value in Chambers’ apology given his specific disclaimers on his views of marriage and what the Bible says about sex and given that Chambers seemed not to be closing Exodus so much as rebranding it by opening the new Reduce Fear ministry.

Do apologizing ex-gays now acknowledge a right to civil marriage for queers who don’t want to be ex-gay? I also asked Thomas what his current views on homosexuality were. Does he, for example, acknowledge the right of those who do not think homosexuality is sinful to have full rights to civil marriage equality?

I would give you a link to my comment on Thomas’s blog except that I cannot. Thomas has deleted my comment.

He’s also deleted other people’s comments. Thomas deleted a comment made by David Philip Norris, who emailed me after I commented on Thomas’s blog to thank me for what I said there. Another comment Thomas deleted was one that called his apology a P/R move; Thomas had even replied to this comment to say that no, it wasn’t a P/R move, but Thomas has deleted his own reply now too.

That Thomas is deleting challenging comments on his blog was a bit surprising to me, although it wasn’t to Norris, who told me that Thomas has been known to delete any comments that are negative or aren’t wildly supportive.

Deleting such comments does go against the dialogue that Thomas says he welcomes. In his announcement of his new comment policy, Thomas says, “I love comments and hearing from you. Especially if it is honest, on topic (or somehow related to the topic blogged about), and doesn’t attack other people.” Right above his comment form, Thomas says, “Please note: I love comments! I prefer civil discussion but don’t mind a bit of ‘rowdy’ dialog as long as it is honest.”

Randy Thomas “loves comments”
(except the ones he deletes)
Thomas has every right to do what he wants on his own blog. I don’t even allow comments on my site.

However, his saying one thing (“I love comments!”) while doing another (deleting comments that aren’t profane attacks) makes me even more dubious about the validity of this supposed apology.

Sorry, Randy, but I would have thought more of you if you had left critical questions up on your blog. If you’d never even allowed for comments, I wouldn’t have had such a negative view of you as I do now that I know you delete critical comments.

The really fun thing is that you can delete comments on your own blog but you can’t control the Internet. I might not even have blogged about your stupid fake apology at all, but since you’ve deleted my comment on your blog, I’ve written this post here on my own blog. Norris also wrote something on his blog.

Good luck trying to shut the whole Internet up, Randy.

tl;dr — Shut the fuck up, Randy Thomas! And frankly I think that unless you shut the fuck up yourself and go work in a homeless shelter for as long as you’ve worked to warp the minds of queers afraid of what your God thinks, your apology really is, as Norris says, a joke.

Saturday, July 27th, 2013
Dayton Daily News FAIL #10 (See DDN Fail #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8 and #9)

This morning I went to the Dayton Daily News website to see if they had any news worth reading, and their top story’s lede told me that “Ohio is investing more taxpayer dollars in high education under the new state budget that devotes nearly $1.” Now Ohio’s investing just under one dollar (what, 90 cents?) to higher education would certainly be top news, but even under Governor Kasich’s leadership it wouldn’t be believable.

Of course, if you click through to read more, even in the truncated free version, you can read the missing part of the lede, the part that makes it make sense: “$1.8 billion to public schools and universities.”

Whoever at Cox Ohio was responsible for putting this top story on the DDN website either was just too lazy to truncate the lede after the word “billion” instead of “$1” or perhaps thought people seeing that the budget was $1 would be more likely to click through.

Either way, I did click through, but only to the truncated free version. Misleading me with ledes about one-dollar state budgets is not a way to inspire me to subscribe to MyDaytonDailyNews.com.

It did make me curious as to whether I could find the story elsewhere for free. I found several articles about Ohio’s new budget that mention education funding, but the only one devoted to higher education funding was “Ohio Budget Shifts Approach to Funding High Education” on the website of WMFD (Channel 12 in Mansfield). WMFD’s story was just three paragraphs but did mention that instead of funding being based entirely on enrollment, 50% of funding will now be based on graduation rates.

WMFD’s story also featured an ASP error (ADODB.Field error 80020009: Either BOF or EOF is True or the current record has been deleted. /local-news/singlesearchsingle.asp, line 0). Perhaps my blog post is thus also about a WMFD Fail.

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013
Google Now Fail

This morning Google Now on my phone told me it was time to go home from work. Google Now, in case you didn’t know, strives to provide “helpful cards with information you need throughout your day, before you even ask.”

Unfortunately this wasn’t helpful or accurate.

First, I was at home when Google Now suggested I leave work to go home.

Second, the route suggested by Google Now didn’t even make sense. Get on the highway to get home? Really?

Also, somehow Google Now thinks my office is literally on the highway. Our building is indeed next to the highway, but to get on the highway I have to go to the Main Street on ramp.

I’m sure Google Now will become more useful as computers become ever more powerful but this counts as a fail.

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Cleaning up a cluttered web page

Today’s post falls under both the tag Web design (bad) and the tag Computer tips. I’m going to show you a web site that has rather cluttered pages and tell you what you can do to fix it.

I’m going to pick on Andy Towle, whose website Towleroad (“a site with homosexual tendencies”) is a popular website for gay news. I’m picking on Towleroad not because I dislike it—indeed, I find it invaluable and visit it often—but
Some things I found annoying about
Towleroad’s design
because I do visit it often enough that some things about it have finally annoyed me so much I decided to fix them.

What things? Let’s look at the Towleroad article I opened today that pushed me over the edge, “Gay Priest Addresses Pope’s and Cardinal Dolan’s Remarks on Gays.” You can see a screenshot of the page to the right.

The floating icons for Facebook and email and Twitter and more, the ones on the left side directly over the text of the article, were what pushed me over the edge. Yes, Towle earns his living as a blogger, and encouraging his readers to share his articles means more readers and potentially more money. I get why he wants to encourage sharing. I do not get, however, why he wants to cover up part of what he’s written.

Perhaps Towle is unaware that the sharing icons on his site cover his article text. If you open one of his site’s pages in a wider window, there’s a bigger left margin and the sharing icons just float there. But web designers have to be aware that not everyone has huge monitors, that not everyone maximizes their web browsers’ windows, and that some people zoom in to increase the font size. Your site should accommodate all those possibilities.

However, even if the sharing icons didn’t obscure the article, they’re still visually annoying, at least to me. These sharing icons remain visible even as you scroll down the page. “Please share!” they shout. “It’s more important that you share this article than that you read it.” Scroll down far enough and a “Share to Facebook” box pops up in the lower right corner (you can add this annoying feature to your site by visiting addthis.com). Okay, okay, I get it—Towle wants me to share his articles.

Sorry, but I don’t want to see these annoying share buttons, and luckily I have the tools to make Towleroad do what I want. Those tools are Customize Your Web and Adblock Plus. (Another tool about which I’ve written before is Greasemonkey, but I didn’t use Greasemonkey to fix Towleroad.)

Customize Your Web is an addon for Firefox that lets you do stuff such as removing elements from web pages and changing elements’ appearance as well as automating forms. All of that can be done with Greasemonkey, but Customize Your Web doesn’t require any knowledge of Javascript, so sometimes it’s a better choice.

A frequent task I use Customize Your Web for is entering my name and password on sites I visit frequently. Yes, you can tell your web browser to remember your login and password, but some banking sites disapprove of that so much they take steps to prevent your browser from doing that. (The design of banking websites could be another “Web design (bad)” blog post.)


Right-click on an offending element and choose “Remove”
For Towleroad, however, I just wanted to hide those annoying share buttons, and while I was at it, also hide some other annoying elements including the Facebook thumbs up at the bottom—which also obscures article text, the extra share buttons at the top—which don’t obscure anything but are ugly, and the scrolling news widget—which distracts me—I just want to read the damned article!

To invoke Customize Your Web so that you can choose elements to be removed, press <F10>. An “edit script” window will appear, and when you move your mouse over elements on the web page, the elements will be highlighted as you pass over them. Hover over an offending item, right-click, and choose “Remove.” Another dialog box will appear; check ”Target is optional in page”
My Customize Your Web script for Towleroad
(if you don’t do this and the element is ever missing when the page loads, the script will fail), and then click “OK.” Repeat for each element you want to remove.

After you have done this for all the offending elements, you’ll have a list of actions in the script editor. But wait! Before you click “Save,” there are a few things you need to do first. One is to double-click on the page’s URL in the “URL Patterns” box, and edit the URL so that instead of referring to a specific page, it refers to all pages on the domain—in this example, we want “http://www.towleroad.com/*”. (For some tasks such as automating forms, you do want to leave it referring to a specific URL.) Then, click on “Settings” and change “Time when script should run” to “After page is fully loaded”—elements are sometimes added to pages after the DOM content is loaded and thus cannot be removed until the entire page is shown.

When you click “Save,” Customize Your Web closes the script and then reloads the page you were on, running its script after the page loads. If you did everything right, all the offending elements will show as the page loads and disappear afterwards.

Unfortunately I had two minor problems with Towleroad which Customize Your Web could not fix. The first was that it wasn’t removing the scrolling news feed. If I’d played around some more I might have gotten removing that to work. The second problem was that Customize Your Web wouldn’t remove the Facebook “Recommend” button because that came from an IFRAME from another site (http://www.facebook.com/plugins/recommendations_bar.php).

Click on “Block” above a Flash element to have Adblock Plus remove it
However, Adblock Plus, the second tool I mentioned above, handily resolved both these problems. If you have Adblock Plus installed, when a flash element shows up on your page, a convenient “Block…” tab appears above it; click on it and you can have Adblock Plus block that Flash element. Then, to remove the “Recommend” button I right-clicked on its IFRAME and choose “Adblock Plus: block iframe” from the context menu.

What Towleroad looks like
after I removed annoying elements
To the left you can see what Towleroad looks like now that I’ve removed all the elements that annoyed me.

No sharing buttons or thumbs up icons obscuring article text. No scrolling news widget updating as I read the article.

Just a few of the very many external sites Towleroad calls for scripts
There was something about Towleroad that I could not fix, however, and that was the site’s load time. Load a page on Towleroad and wait as the page contacts a dozen external sites for various items. “Waiting for m.addthisedge.com…” “Connecting to static.crowdscience.com…” “Connecting to s16.sitemeter.com…” Towleroad loads scripts from crowdscience.com, scorecardresearch.com, chartbeat.com, crwdcntrl.net, popfeedback.com, cloudfront.net, onswipe.com, addthis.com, googletagmanager.com, blogads.com, widgetserver.com, technorati.com, quantserve.com, sitemeter.com, reinvigorate.net, and visualdna.com. Oh my fucking God, no wonder Towleroad pages take so long to load!

Now don’t get me wrong—I value Towleroad as a great source for LGBT news, and I don’t begrudge Andy Towle’s doing what he thinks is necessary to earn a living.

Well I guess I begrudge it enough that I do have Adblock Plus installed, so you could argue that I’m stealing from Towle by viewing his pages without ads. However, the way I usually read Towleroad is via Google Reader Feedly, visiting the actual website only if I want to see other readers’ comments. Towleroad includes the full text of their articles in their RSS feed, so if they really minded my not seeing their ads, they would either close their RSS feed or change it, as other sites do, to include previews only, requiring readers instead to click through to the website to read full articles (and to see ads).

Nonetheless it’s Andy Towle’s site and he can do what he wants. Yet he might want to consider whether he’s balancing the interests of his readers (avoiding annoying tactics, having quickly loading pages) enough with the necessary interests of earning money (getting readers to share articles to increase readership, using external tools for sharing and tracking). A difficult balance, I know, one that fortunately I don’t have to attempt.

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