Comment spam control

No spam

I love getting comments on my blog posts, so if you’re thinking something while reading my posts, please let me know. One thing I have noticed recently, though, is comments that make no sense. What’s funny is that they have some elements of the post in them, but overall they’re gibberish.

Part of being a “do follow” blog is dealing with comment spam. In case you don’t know, “do follow” means that when you comment here, my site provides a link to your website (assuming you put that information in the comment form). That’s great for building Google PageRank, so I guess a lot of sites comment here just for the links. It doesn’t hurt that my page has some PageRank juice to give out too.

For that reason, I have my comments on moderated status. If you see your comment hasn’t been approved in a couple of days, please feel free to email me. It’s possible I didn’t get to it yet, or it might have wound up in my spam folder. I generally don’t weed through the hundreds of spam messages I get for one or two real comments.

One type of comment spam that’s hard to catch is the “repeat everything” comment. This is where the comment is actually an exact duplicate of some snippet from my posts or from others’ comments. They sound real, and it requires my delving into my memory to realize that it’s something I’ve seen before.

Another common type of comment spam is the “great post” comment. Those are just annoying, but they’re fairly easy to spot. They might say, “Nice blog,” or, “I agree with you,” or other non-specific comments.

Luckily, the Akismet spam catcher thingee does a good job of keeping out most comment spam (like the ads for viagra).

What kinds of comment spam have you had to deal with?

Higher education

university life

A couple of months ago I finished my first semester in a teaching certification program at a local college. It was my first time taking online classes, and it was an experience. I found that I don’t really like online courses, or at least not the way these were taught. There was no classroom instruction. Rather, we were given a series of assignments to complete, based on our readings or classroom observations (if we were in a practicum course).

I think the program would be much better if instructors taught via webinars and video presentations. Students could then call in to the webinar with questions, we’d still have the opportunity to be lectured to, and we’d be able to interact with our fellow classmates.

Also, the work was incredibly easy. All we had to do was turn in assignments and we’d pass the course. Maybe I’m used to harder material and harder teaching methods, having gone to a “top” university for undergrad. Or maybe this program just isn’t that challenging (and maybe that’s the way they want it).

More recently I ran into problems enrolling in one of the courses. It was a week into the course and apparently once you’ve missed that much it’s too difficult to catch up. I pleaded my case – that I needed this course now in order to complete the program on time (and other reasons), that I was confident I could (easily) pass the course despite missing that week, and that it should be up to the student to take that (fairly low) risk. But it was a no go, which annoys me.

In order to help me reach my goals, I was offered a chance to take some classes if I signed a form promising to pay back any federal financial aid I received should I not fulfill a minor requirement (even if I completed, passed, and paid for said classes using that financial aid). Luckily, contracts class in law school (and the red flags popping up all around), made me refuse to sign the questionable document. I likened it to signing a blank check.

On the bright side, I think I’ve found a feasible way to make up for lost time by  taking a heavier courseload in the fall.

What’s interesting to me is how difficult it’s been to handle administrative things with this college, as opposed to undergrad and even law school. Perhaps it’s because it’s a small college. Or maybe times have changed since I’ve gone to school, and a college education is less about education and more about red tape. The last time I was in college was only about five years ago, though.

In any event, I‘ve learned a valuable lesson. If I want a higher education in this manner, I’ll have to take control of my own learning and anticipate the red tape ahead of time. Then I’ll be better prepared to argue my case when problems arise.

Have you taken classes at a small college? What about online classes? Has your experience been smooth sailing or rocky?

Sound the Alarm (or not)

tick tock 24

I haven’t used an alarm clock in many, many years.

Why not?

I hate them. They’re loud, obnoxious, and they wake me up! I know, I know. That’s the point of alarm clocks. But I find them an intrusive device, and I don’t use them anymore (except on very rare occasions).

You may be thinking, “The nerve of that woman! Alarm clocks are a necessary part of life. Just like wearing a watch.” Well, actually, I don’t wear a watch either, but that’s a story for another time (no pun intended).

My disdain for loud alarms may actually have its roots in high school. I went to a school that didn’t use bells. When it was time to change classes, we changed classes (when the teacher gave his or her okay, of course). We had to use our minds to stay on-time while stopping at our lockers or chatting with our friends.

Sometime during college, I started realizing that I often wake myself up before the alarm goes off. I must have started practicing this skill, and I tried my best to make sure I didn’t have to be anywhere super early. Also, I generally find that I won’t sleep past 8a.m. no matter what time I go to sleep at night.

Eventually I had my daughter, and that just solidified my habit. Babies wake up all the time, and my daughter especially can’t stand sleeping once the sun is up. Surprisingly, I can always go back to sleep when I want, but somehow I can still set my mental alarm for how long I plan to stay asleep.

Waking without an alarm doesn’t work so well when there is a schedule change, though. If I suddenly have to start getting up at 5 a.m., I will set the clock. But worrying about sleeping through the alarm generally wakes me up before it sounds.

Not having to rely on alarm clocks is refreshing. There’s something unsettling about being awoken from a sound sleep by a loud, scary noise. It makes waking up harsh and unkind. I highly suggest giving it a try, maybe starting with a weekend or during vacation.

What about you? Do alarm clocks play an important role in your daily life?

Email (dis)organization

An E-mail!

If you’re anything like me, your inbox in your favorite email program is disorganized and full. I use MS Outlook for email, and I fully intend to keep it organized and manageable. But for some reason, I have over 1000 unread messages, and who knows how many read messages. It’s a complete mess! I also forget to respond to people occasionally, making a mental note to get back to them after I’ve given their message more thought. Somehow I forget to give it more thought, I guess.

I really do care about my email messages. I check email a couple times each day. And I even use the folders system to some extent. Because messages are removed from the server after deletion, I have a folder that I call “keep” so I won’t lose important things. At the same time, there are folders for bills (I forget to open that one a lot), and I keep those indefinitely also.

My plan of action is to only “touch” an email once. When it comes into my sight, I have to read it and either do the required action, file the message in an appropriate folder, or delete it. That’s the plan. I’ve had this plan for a long time, though.

What’s your email situation? Are you really organized? Do you keep all of your messages in your main inbox, or do you move them to folders? I really wish that Outlook allowed me to highlight messages (instead of just flagging them). Maybe if I could highlight a message just like I can highlight a row in Excel, I might actually take action on things that I want to take a quick glance at and save for later.

So if you’ve sent me an email and I haven’t responded, please don’t think I’m ignoring it on purpose. I probably just filed it away or it got lost in the inbox ocean.

Please share with us how you keep your email organized and efficient.

A Room with a View

bench in naturePhoto – Michaela Kobyakov

If you’ve been reading Crayon Writer for a while, you probably know that it’s not super-easy for me to stick to one plan of action for long. I like variety, though I do like to work on short projects for hours on end.

But one thing that never seems to change for me is the need to have pretty scenery around me. I need to work in a room with a view.

This came up recently because I considered moving to a new apartment. I like mine, but I could use more space so my daughter can have her own playroom, or so I can have a separate office (or both). My apartment complex has amazingly large floor plans, and I was all set to move on up to a larger place.

But I realized that though bigger, the other available apartments don’t have the view I currently enjoy. When I look out my window I see greenery and parts of the beautiful desert. I get wonderful animal visitors too. I’ve seen Gambel’s Quail and their babies, rabbits, different lizard species, hummingbirds, all kinds of birds (I’m a bird watcher), and a gopher snake once. I’ve even seen a bobcat with her cubs/kittens walk across my porch.

Occasionally a neighborhood kid uses my “backyard” for a passageway, but overall I find the beauty to be calming. Sure, a bigger place has its advantages, but if I have to stare at a brick wall or a sidewalk or a parking lot all day, I doubt that my mood would be as serene.

What about you? Do you prefer a certain background for your life?

Essential laptop accessories

Being a freelance writer, I love my laptop dearly. It’s like a second child. I can take it almost anywhere, even though I did opt for a pretty heavy laptop. I wanted a 17-inch screen and a keyboard complete with a numeric keypad. I also have a thing for playing computer games and running multiple applications.

With all that power comes heat, and I burned through one laptop (thank goodness it was still under warranty).

Lesson learned. I now own a cooling pad for the laptop, one of my essential can’t-live-without-it laptop accessories.

Cooling pads come in several types. Some have one or more moving fans that serve to suck the heat away from the computer. This is the kind I have. Other fan systems blow air onto the laptop. Fan-based cooling pads generally use USB cords, from the laptop, for their power source.

Other kinds of cooling pads are passive. They use chemicals that turn to gel when heated, which moves the heat to the pad and away from the laptop. Other passive pads are angled so that natural airflow is maximized.

Whatever kind of cooling pad you get, make sure you get one. It extends the life of your laptop and saves precious information. While I did get a replacement laptop, I lost all my files and documents.

Another really important accessory is a laptop sleeve. Obviously, this isn’t essential if you keep your laptop solely at home, but if you take it anywhere, your laptop needs some protection.

You can always get a regular laptop case, which has some type of handle for carrying. A laptop sleeve, however, is valuable because you can omit the (usually) bulky case. Sleeves have padding, but they aren’t suitable if you think you’re going to drop your laptop a lot (is that in anyone’s plans?)

A snug-fitting sleeve adds little weight to your laptop, so you can carry it in a regular bag with other things. Or you may just want to carry it in your arms while still getting some protection from scratches or light drops.

I haven’t gotten a sleeve yet, but that’s because I’m happy with just carrying a case. I’m not lugging around books for school, and I have to have a shoulder strap to keep my hands free.

What are your must-have laptop accessories? Which ones can you do without?

Print or online?

Walking on the papers

I read a lot of articles online, especially as a Twitter user, and it’s really interesting to learn so much. I even get most of my news online, I chat with my friends online, and more. I feel like the character in “The Net.”

But I am really getting tired of reading everything on-screen. I have multiple windows open so I can get back to an article later, I have tons of bookmarked pages (that I’ll probably never read), and it’s just too much.

I know that we’re supposedly headed toward a paperless world, but I sure do miss reading with actual paper in my hand. Pages to flip through. Ideas I can highlight with a pen. Eventual scrap paper for random thoughts that pop into my head.

It’s not feasible to print everything though. The sheer number of interesting things to read makes it impossible. But I sure do miss it.

Do you read mostly online or do you print things? What’s your system?


Writing rituals

Music Band 1

Do you write for a living, or spend a lot of time writing? For some, writing can be a way to relax and unwind. Others may write because their boss pays them to do so, and still others make money and relax at the same time.

Like other routine tasks, having a ritual can be helpful (or even essential). I like to turn on my saved music list (formerly Imeem, now MySpace Music). It’s not random music like the radio, so I can get into a groove and block out outside distractions. I do find myself singing along, but because I know the songs so well, it doesn’t require any mental energy.

What about you? Do you have favorite songs or a favorite radio station, or does music distract you too much? Maybe you have a special chair or perfect time of day. I also usually have a cup of chai tea before I write…it seems to calm my mind and get it ready to focus.

Maybe your ritual is more eccentric. Do you hop on one foot three times and spin in a circle before you settle down to the task at hand? This cool article from the National Writing Project discusses a few interesting things some writers do before they start writing.

What are your writing rituals?

What good are ideas?

Innovation

Are you the kind of person who’s always coming up with great ideas? The next “big thing”? I certainly do, and I really do have some off-the-chart, awesome ideas. But what good are they if I never do anything with them?

I got to thinking about this because of this really cool blog plug-in called Post Ideas. Whenever I think of a nice blog post to write, I add it to my Post Ideas. The problem is, I never get around to actually writing these posts.

So here’s the first of the post ideas that have been sitting around collecting dust. My library of ideas is full, and I have no excuse to keep you wondering when I’ll next write a post.

Also along the lines of big ideas, feel free to contact me if you need an idea for something. I have a million of them. Just the other day I thought of a really sweet music video. If you’re a friend of N.E.R.D or any other band, let me know. It’s a hit (I don’t have music or lyrics, just the concept for a video). I don’t mind sharing my brilliance if I wasn’t planning on using it myself anyway.

Do you have a storehouse of ideas? What are your plans for them?

Just do it already!

Clocks

This is my new mantra. I need to just do it already. Whatever “it” is, I need to get over myself and just do it.

But getting yourself out of the way is easier said than done. Procrastination is much easier than taking action.

As an exercise in procrastinating, I decided to do some research about my affliction. Do you procrastinate too? Well spend some of that extra time reading through these insightful articles. Enjoy!

50 Strategies for Making Yourself Work

Five Reasons Why We Procrastinate and Five Strategies to Put Off Putting it Off

Good and Bad Procrastination

Beating Procrastination

Procrastination: Ten Things to Know