Welcome to The Blog Report

I'm so glad you stopped by and hope you find this blog an interesting read. I've been blogging since April of 2006, currently the author of six public and two private blogs. In the beginning I knew absolutely nothing about blogging. Over the years through trial and error, frustration and elation, and a few tears I've learned a lot. However, the learning process when it comes to blogging continues to evolve. Here you will find a hodge podge of my blogging experiences, useful codes and how-tos, sprinkled liberally with my opinions. Enjoy!

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Monday, December 31, 2012

A Look Back at Blogging in 2012

Oh wow!  If someone had told me when I started blogging back in 2006 that I would still be at it in 2012, I would have told them they were nuts.  Blogging for me really started as a means of self expression.  The fact that it evolved into make a little money in many ways still doesn't mean a lot to me.  It is and continues to be about self expression and sharing my experiences with others.

For me, 2012 was a bad blogging year.  Early in 2012 the last of best of the blog advertising networks folded.  I was so used to writing an article for each blog (I have six blogs) on a daily basis that even that news was unsettling.  Then I had a nasty slip and fall, was still trying to adjust to our new home, spending time at our vacation home (15 weeks total), volunteering and really just life in general plus my husband was hospitalized the end of August with an unknown gastrointestinal disorder for five days.  The exclusive advertising network my one blog had been with for four years not really folded but changed hands meaning I can now put other advertising on that blog.  I guess that's a good thing and I can always add Adsense back onto it but that's something for the new year.  I was a very active participant on a couple of Yahoo groups that ended up bringing me a bit of blog traffic.  Back in October while at our vacation home after a group upset (I wasn't actively involved but man can they ever get nasty), I went into lurk mode on the groups.  I'm not sure whether not being active on the groups has cost me blog traffic and I don't really care as it has given me a bit more peace of mind.   Like, the whole year was in many ways a blogging nightmare.

I was disoriented, dealing with way too much and when I did have time to write, I really didn't feel like it.  I started several blog posts for my personal blog as drafts but when I went to re-read them the anger and frustration was clearly showing through so I never did post them.  I had not enough blog fodder for one of my blogs, way too much blog fodder for another and then there's the blog that likely doesn't even know what blog fodder is.  Any resemblance of a blogging routine went out the window and the more I didn't blot the easier it got to not blog, if that make sense.

They say that in a marriage, there is the seven year itch.  If you make it past the seven years without being unfaithful, the chances are considerably better the marriage will last.  My husband are past the 35 year mark which really has nothing to do with blogging other than this year he was a huge distraction but in a good way.  I think blogging is almost like a marriage or maybe more like a kid or having a pet or, I'm not really sure.  Blogging is part of me.  I want my feelings, my ideas and my creativity out there.  It is my form of self expression.  Believe me blogging is a lot easier than trying to dance with two left feet or sing with a tone deaf ear.

As 2012 draws to a close, I know I'm not happy with how my blogging was but I think I have learned something.  May 2013 bring a better blogging year :)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Discussing the Forbidden

As most of you know, I author six blogs.  Five of those six blogs run Adsense who is rather particular about what you can and can't blog about.  In particular, you cannot promote alcohol or alcoholic products with Adsense.  Now, that it just a bit difficult when you author a cooking blog where alcohol is used from time to time in recipes.  I don't use it a lot and in fact over the course of almost seven years of that blog, there are likely three or four posts that even mention it.  However, under Adsense rules if taken to the letter, these recipes would not be allowed because they do in fact promote the use of alcohol.  I'm sure Adsense would make an exception but it could still be a problem if their bots caught any discussion of alcohol before a human did.

I would like to know where the line is.  It isn't like cooking with alcohol is promoting under age or illegal use of alcohol.  It isn't like I'm telling anyone how to make alcohol but on a cooking blog, making homemade wine or beer, both of which are quite legal is still against Adsense rules or at least the way I interpret the rules.  And another thing, why is it Google who owns Adsense can set these rules over the legitimate discussion of the legal use of alcoholic products yet turn around and force custom ads at me promoting the use of alcohol?  If they don't want Adsense members promoting alcohol then they shouldn't be forcing those ads on us either!

There are a few other taboos when using Adsense.  The bottom line is, if you use Adsense you can't discuss the taboos BUT make no never mind, Google can definitely feed ads with that type of content to you via your browsing history BECAUSE they set tracking cookies.  Well they used to be able to do that until I got smart and set up measures to prevent that.  At any rate, it does appear to be a double standard when members can't do something but the company itself can do the same thing if not worse ad nauseum!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Backlinking Dilemna

My gosh, now you have spammers asking not to add a backlink while others ask for a backlink.  What is a poor blogger to do?  When I started blogging in 2006, giving a link to another blogger's blog was just a friendly thing to do.  A couple of years later give or take, Google announced that linking to a blog that had a lower PR than your's would help the lower ranking blog while hurting yours. All of a sudden, a lot of blogs started removing links in their sidebar.  Then Google announced that linking to a blog or site that perhaps had a bit of bad SEO would affect your blog so more backlinks dried up.  Last year it was to the point many bloggers were scared to share any links but then Blogger added the 'no follow' tag but Google said it was following anyway then  announced about mid-year that they were once again honouring the tag.  I don't use the 'no follow' tag but I do keep any links from my blogs to other sites at a bare minimum.  Then Google announced that is say Joe Blow linked to your site 'without your permission' and his site was blackhat or porno, you would get penalized.  Not that really is unfair because how can you possibly control who links to you?  Now, Google has just announced that they will no longer penalize for these types of backlinks.

The bottom line is, if you author a good blog, you will at some point backlink to another blog or website.  If you have a great blog you will attract the attention of others who may put a link on their website or blog leading to yours and really, quite frankly you can't do much about this.  However, being penalized by Google was beyond being fair.  How could Google ever justify penalizing a blogger who had no control over the backlink?  I don't know and it never made sense to me but apparently their algorithm, their rules.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A New Form of Blog Spam

Yesterday, I opened my email to find this:

Ref: :  http://theblogreport2.blogspot.in/
My name is Ryan Cook and I represent  http://www.spammed site It has come to our attention that your site may be linking to our own in a manner which we believe may be mutually harmful in SEO terms. For this reason, I would be very grateful if you would please remove all links to this site at your earliest convenience, letting me know that you have done so.
It may be that a third party has maliciously or abusively added our details at some point in the past, and I apologise for inconveniencing you in this way. However, as my email address shows, I represent  http://www.spammed site  directly and it is our express wish that all such links be removed as soon as possible. If you represent any affiliate websites which are also linking to us in this way, would you also be so kind as to remove our details from those sites, also?I am really very grateful for your cooperation in this matter.
Many thanksRyan Cookhttp://www.spammed site

Now, my blog url is http://theblogreport2.blogspot.com but Blogger is now adding country specific tags instead of the .com to circumvent country specific censorship so that part isn't a problem.  However, the email says it is from Ryan Cook and yet the short headers say it is from Jess White.  The email address is a yahoo address rather than the actual contact email address of the spammed site.  I just had to check it out.  The originating IP is meaning the spammer used a proxy to mask the actual IP.  The spammed site appears three times in the email something that is a red flag to begin with.  A legitimate email from the spammed site would not need to use two different names or hide their IP nor would it have to give a link to their site three times.  This is a novel spoof to gain traffic to the spammed site although there is no real gain for the spammer.  So the spammer is either a disgruntled employee of the spammed site or someone trying to discredit the spammed site via a spam campaign.  

This type of spoof is becoming increasingly popular.  It is important to not respond by a knee jerk reaction.  If is remotely looks a bit suspicious, chances are good it is not legit.  Do not reply in any fashion to the email.  You can notify the spammed site via their actual contact information providing the complete headers and content of the spoof email but this type of thing is very difficult to stop.  However, they may have resources to help track the origin of the spoof and at least they would be aware of the spoof campaign that could end up negatively affecting them.  In this case, I moved the message to my 'somewhat suspicious' email folder and blogged about it.  No further action is necessary unless it persists.

Monday, December 10, 2012

I'm So Flattered!

This morning, in the wee hours of the morning because I couldn't sleep and didn't want to disturb my husband who was sleeping peacefully, I decided to do a bit of online work.  I checked my Yahoo mail first.  Oh my!  I am beyond flattered!  Not only did Oprah email me but Beyonce and Brittany Spears emailed as well.  Now I knew my blogs were getting a bit of attention, but really this is a bit surprising.  Quite frankly, I was a bit more impressed over the Ontario government reading my blogs because apparently I caught their attention but Oprah, Brittany Spears and Beyonce?  Like I should really be impressed!  Can't spammers get a bit more creative?  Honestly, how stupid do they think folks are?  Besides, if Oprah wants to get a hold of me, she has my direct line so no need to email .

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Be Careful When Doing Reviews

Oh my!  I do a lot of online reviews mainly on Epinion but also on my blogs.  Now Epinion pays me but I get no compensation from reviews on my blogs.  My opinion is just that, my opinion based on my experience with the product, restaurant or service.  So when I'm blogging about it, it's not like I take a different approach.  I'm sorry, but if we go into a restaurant and the service was cruddy, I have no problem talking about it on my blogs.  Well, apparently Jane Perez wrote a review on Yelp and Angie's List about her negative experience with a home contractor, Dietz Development.  He sued for $750,000 claiming he lost $300,000 because of her reviews.  A Virginia judge ordered Jane Perez to change her reviews because she actually accused them of stealing jewellery and they were the only ones with the key to her home when the jewellery went missing.  Now this is problematic for bloggers as the judge has already set the precedence.  However, he really only ordered her to change the part about the missing jewellery but she was able to keep her opinions in tack.  In her case, she could have omitted the fact of the missing jewellery or included it as suspicion rather than fact.  Seriously, how difficult would it have been to say in the review, they were in my home, had a key to my home and items went missing then letting the reader decide as to whether someone from the contractor's crew took the

As a blogger, I feel it is my right to speak my mind PROVIDING that I am not making false accusations, making libellous statements, resorting to name calling, promoting hatred or condoning illegal acts.   I'm usually fairly classy about any review to begin with because it can never be 100% good or 100% bad so I like to point out both the positives and negatives.  I also know I would not make an accusation unless I could prove it 100% so even if I had a strong suspicion that a contractor stole something from my home, unless charges were laid by the police and the firm found guilty, and likely not even then, I still would omit that from my review.

Bloggers do have to realize they have a great deal with respect to freedom of speech but they should not abuse this right.  As long as they are blogging under the TOS and AUP of their blog host provider and ISP, they really are free to discuss pretty much everything under the sun.  At the same time, bloggers do have to realize they can be held accountable for their words.  They can be sued and while in most cases it won't get far, it is just a hassle to go through.  Anything that can get you sued is more than likely against the TOS of your blogging platform as well.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Blogger Spammer

Blogger, owned by Google, offers an amazing free blog hosting platform.  Unfortunately, by its very nature it has also become a comment spammer paradise.  What happens is the comment spammer sets up a free account.  The tell tale sign they are a comment spammer is there is only a profile, no picture or information and very seldom a blog, just a bare minimum profile.  If there is a blog, it is more of a splog (spam blog).  The next tell tale sign is their date of becoming a member on Blogger.  Usually it is only a few days before the spamming starts but can be within the month and quite often they start with a test message.  If their test message appears, a bombardment of spam messages will follow and continue depending on how many complaints before Blogger pulls their plug.  If a blog within the Blogger system displays the blog hopping bar, it makes it more susceptible to comment spam from those joining Blogger for that purpose.  If the blogger hasn't set their comments to moderation, they can quickly find a number of comment spam on their blog.

There really isn't a lot you can do about this situation if you use Blogger.  It is going to happen from time to time because even Blogger itself does not know if someone is going to be a comment spammer when they sign up for the services.  The best course of action is to always have comments set to moderation.  That way you can nip any comment spam in the bud before your readers have to see it.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Online Privacy

The whole concept of privacy is a myth, even in our own homes.  Telephone lines can be bugged and at one time it was possible to listen in on conversations on cell phones.  If your mail is delivered to your home, it is possible for some of it to go missing and while it is illegal to tamper with mail, it doesn't stop mail theft from happening.  If you have curbside waste collection and put anything of a personal nature (eg. empty prescription bottles, personal papers, etc) in the garbage.  Even items like clothing tags, food wrappers, magazines, and etc. provide information about your lifestyle.   Someone looking for information on you only needs to take your garbage.  If someone really wants information on you, they can gain a fair amount just from surveillance of your residence.  Taking garbage and house/property surveillance is most common if the person is being investigated for a crime or lawsuits usually involving injury.  In public, privacy is pretty much non-existent thanks to security, traffic, digital and cell phone cameras.  Now the biggest myth with respect to privacy is online privacy.

The nature of the internet is a connection does not go simply from your house to the site you are browsing (eg. point A to point B).  Rather it goes through a series of hops that in some cases can be quite long.  So to get to that particular site, the connection may go through 20 different points.  As the connection goes through a point it leaves a footprint that can be traced.  It is possible to use a traceroute to see all of these points using the full email headers or site IP.  Circumventing this is partially possible by using an anonymizing service (online or software) but there will still be a footprint from your IP to the anonymous service that routes you through various proxy servers.  So, if for some reason your IP log was checked it would show you connected to an anonymous server or connected directly to a proxy service.  Some proxy servers are more secure than others.  The most secure proxy servers dump their logs daily or more often.  Others keep the logs for a week or more and some only mask your IP keeping it from the site you are visiting but they maintain a log of your visit and what site you went to using their service.  That is only one way you are being tracked through your browsing history.

Cookies are little pieces of text put onto your computer by various sites.  They may or may not collect personal information that they may share with others specifically advertisers and/or their affiliates.  This allows advertisers to serve ads to you while you are browsing tailored to your interests but also based on your previous browsing history.  To circumvent this, you can turn cookies off completely but then some sites won't work.  A better solution is to clean out your cookies keeping only those necessary ones (eg. Blogger cookies for using your Blogger account).  Run a scan to show any tracking cookies and remove them as well.  Then in settings, toggle to keep local data only until the browser is closed (Google Chrome/advanced settings) or accept only cookies from the site visited (Safari) and in both block third party cookies and site data.  Next, in Google Chrome/advanced settings toggle off pop-ups and toggle location to disallow sites from tracking your physical location.  Save your settings and close your browser then re-open it.  If don't properly you should notice advertising that is not based on your interests.  Your generic location may still be shown but it is really the location of the closest hub of your ISP so not your physical location.  So if your ISP is in Ontario, you will still see ads targeted to Ontario but not those targeted to where you actually live.  Location services, on the other hand is quite different and in many respects if it points directly to your residence, an invasion of privacy.

Location services uses crowd-sourced WiFi hotspot locations to determine your approximate location BUT can actually pinpoint your current physical location.  That is rather scary!  I had the location service toggled on, on my iPad to see what it would do.  I went to Google Earth and within seconds there was a marker directly over our house on the map.  I immediately turned off location services.  Location services can be turned on for specific sites if you are using your mobile device or laptop as a GPS when traveling but be aware, it can give your current location which can be dangerous in the hands of someone wishing to do harm.

From a blogging perspective, the take-home message is persistent or obnoxious or threatening comment spammer can be traced a lot easier than they think even if they comment under Anonymous.  Go into your stats log and pinpoint the comment based on the time it was made combined with the title of the post.  Copy that information and forward it to your blog hosting site who will do the rest of the work for you.  This can be done even if you have comments set to moderation that were rejected for publication.  Only do this for the persistent, pain in the butt comment spam although you could if desired do it for almost all comment spam.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cyber Trolls

Cyber trolls are online bullies who like to taunt others, goading them into fights while causing chaos all under the cloak of anonymity.  They can be down right vicious to the point of spilling over into stalking and real life threats.  If you have your blog comments moderated, a cyber troll stands no chance because their comments are not automatically posted so they have no idea if you even saw them and you basically have removed any attention they would have got if the comment had been posted.  Once again, this is another reason for comment moderation.

As a victim of online bullying and stalking, I turned to blogging so in reality had it not been for that experience none of my blogs would exist.  However, that experience taught me to always keep comments moderated and if they even hint at being spam or a bullying attempt to put them in the trash where the belong and ignore.  I also keep a suspicious folder so if I get someone who is persistent their comments along with their IP goes in that folder.  If it persists, I have evidence to make a few behind the scenes complaints.

First and foremost, these cyber bullies aka trolls want a reaction.  They are mean, vindictive people living on hatred with their only goal of inflicting pain so the rule is 'never let them get to you'.  If you say nothing on your blog and their comment doesn't get posted, they are left wondering if you even saw it in the first place so they will escalate but if each comment goes into the trash or flagged whatever way you want to deal with it, without being posted and without anything being said on your blog, they quickly tire of the game because they aren't getting a reaction aka attention.  Unless it becomes a direct threat, just keep ignoring them and they will go away.  You can always block their IP from accessing your blog but I only recommend that as a last resort even though it is a very effective way to deal with cyber bullying.  If they can't access your blog, they can't very well carry on bullying you.  Basically act quietly behind the scenes giving no indication you even know someone is trying to cyber bully or troll you.  Sent a few LARTs if necessary but other than that ignore.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Blogging Mojo

Oh my gosh, last year was about as bad as it could get for me with blogging.  I was out of my element and the more I pushed the worse it got.  So hubby is sick and took a med and being paranoid I wanted to make sure he stayed breathing because not breathing is not a good thing.  I brought the laptop into the bedroom.  We don't have a tv in our room but I often bring the iPad or laptop if I'm working on something.  Anyway, he is semi-comatose and all of a sudden my blogging mojo reappeared.  I'm not sure what happened but all I know is the mojo is back.  I am so pleased!!!!!!!!!!!