Nominated for an Oscar this year in the animated short category, Logorama is a 15 minute film that’s a cross between Pulp Fiction and 2012, with lots of violence and NSFW dialogue, and exists in a world made of nothing but well-known corporate logos. Let’s hope it wins.

PS: How awesome is it that we get to watch nominated short films for free online? (via artlung and TCJ)

Does Amazon enable comment spam?

Comment spam has been around for many years now and I've seen all the tricks of the trade blasted at me and my sites. Lately, it's gotten tougher and tougher to weed out every last bit of spam because it's clear comment spammers are hiring people to write somewhat on-topic comments and then loading either their username or the comment with links to their sites (which are loaded with ads).

Here's an example of what I'd call a high quality comment spam:

Screen shot 2010-02-20 at 8.33.28 AM
It's on topic, it seems like an innocuous pat on the back in broken english, but the username links to a video game fan site. The comment was posted to get a backlink to their site. Sometimes they copy and paste two sentences from my own post as a new comment, but usually it's a mellow "this is a good post" comment meant to fall under my radar and eventually improve their Google ranking for whatever keyword they are chasing.

I started thinking about how people are farming out this "make an innocuous comment and link back to my site" work and I was reminded of Amazon's Mechanical Turk system where you pay humans to perform piecemeal work, often for mere pennies. A couple years ago, ReadWriteWeb noticed somewhat spammy activity on the Turk system so I decided to run the same searches today and found similar results.

  • 29 results for "bookmark" including people asking for comments on their site and posting their site to every social bookmark system, some paying as little as a penny per job.
  • 42 results for "comment" including lots of rate and comment my youtube videos up, test our comment system, and flat out "leave a good comment on my site" jobs.
  • 18 results for "digg" including people asking digg votes as well as posting their site to digg for them.
  • 13 results for "write a paragraph" These frequently become posts on adsense-loaded sites and other SEO nonsense.

I'm sure there are bigger sites that enable these kind of bottom-feeder transactions on the web. I bet there are whole black hat SEO forums and marketplaces to buy links, comments, and articles, but it's kind of a shame that two years after ReadWriteWeb pointed out the problems they still persist. I love using Amazon as a customer and I think the Mechanical Turk system is pretty cool, I just wish they did a better job eradicating this kind of thing that leads me to have to judge all my incoming comments harshly as defaulting to spam unless they seem like honest additions to the conversation.

Not what it says on the tin

I'm walking down the snacks aisle at Costco today during our bi-annual trip and I couldn't help but notice the extreme sizes of chip bags. You can buy several pounds of tortilla or corn chips in bulk, but there's one bag at the end of the aisle that jumps out at me for its sheer size and girth. The bag is about the size of my torso, maybe three feet tall by one foot wide and my jaw is dropping at inane and insane name they've come up with to market such a snack:

Sensible Portions

Streaming iPhone video

M7 Air Video is an amazing app I have wished for but never thought I’d see actually happen, given the App Store’s dodgy rules about approving applications like this.

The other day I had a bit of insomnia, noticed my phone on my nightstand and wondered to myself if there was any hack, any way I could somehow stream videos from my desktop computer downstairs (both downloaded video and iTunes movies/shows). I was just thinking about trying out some media server apps to see if I could make it work when I saw this pop up on Lifehacker today. I’ve downloaded, installed, and gotten this app to work wonderfully. You can even jump ahead to different parts of a streaming movie and it’ll render in just a few seconds.

It’s a pretty handy app if you use one desktop computer as a “base” for a media center with other devices (like AppleTV, iPhone, etc) talking to it. Plus, you don’t have to take up any space on your iPhone (and I guess iPad eventually) with the movie itself, as it is just streamed in real time. 

I haven’t tested remote access outside my network, but if I could stream a new show from home to an iPhone sitting in my hotel room while traveling, I would say we’re truly living in the future now.

My recommended kid games

It started out innocuously. We were waiting for a table at a restaurant, my daughter was about two years old and fidgeting. I checked the App Store on my iPhone for a kid genre, found a fake phone game, and let her go to town on it. It saved the day and bought us 20 min of quiet time. Since then I've downloaded a lot of games and educational apps for my daughter (who is now four and a half) and I've been meaning to write up the ones I think are worth a few bucks and have stood the test of time, and here they are.

Kid games screen

This is my "Kid Games" screen of my iPhone that I go to when I find myself somewhere with my daughter and we're both bored. This happens sporadically in doctors offices, in lines while running errands, and most often at a restaurant. I'll quickly recap each one here with an appropriate age range after.

Fairy Trails — Augmented Reality for Kids! If you have a newer iPhone 3GS, this is a game that initializes the camera and you pan around the room, clicking the screen when you see a fairy fly by. It's pretty simple and kind of silly but can entertain kids for longer than you think (3-5 years).

Brushes — fairly advanced drawing tools than can trip up younger users (by them accidentally zooming out or in), but for general drawing works pretty good (3-12+ years).

iPlayPhone — the first kid game I downloaded. Mostly just a noisemaker for the youngest to mash on without messing up your phone (6mo-2 years)

Ballonimals — Pretty fun virtual ballon animal game from IDEO. You blow in the mic to make an animal, tap it to make it dance, then explode it by over-inflating. Good fun (2-6 years)

DinoMixer — It's a mix and match game of dinosaurs, with about a dozen different animals in three parts plus different foregrounds and backgrounds. Fun and a good learning experience (3-10 years)

TicTacToe — there are about 100 different TicTacToe apps in the App Store but this one allows for WiFi play, which I've done with my daughter using another iPod Touch. Good times (3-10 years)

ZenGarden — a really great simple "drawing" app where there is no color or brushes to choose from, you just push a line in the sand, and shake for a new blank canvas. Perfect for young artists (1-4 years)

Heat Pad — much the same as ZenGarden, you just drag a finger across and colors change, this one is a fake "heat map" based on how long your finger stays in place. Gets old kind of quick, I've found (1-4 years)

Cute Math — A nice basic number identification, counting, and eventually basic addition/subtraction app. (2-6 years)

LunchBox/WhenIGrowUp — Both THUP games come from a developer that is a member of MetaFilter where I heard of them. Great pre-school games, one is basic number and color identifier, the other is basically dressing up a monkey. My daughter loves both. (2-6 years)

AnimalMatch — My daughter loves Memory card-matching games and this one offers flexible grids of different sizes/difficulty. There was a time she wanted to play this for hours (2-6 years)

Let's Color — A Curious George/PBS app, this is just a paint-bucket coloring book style app. If your child is a fan of the show, they will like it (2-4 years)

DoodleBuddy — Amazing drawing app that is free(!) in the App Store, and is perfectly between something full-featured like Brushes and simpler apps. It even offers collaborate WiFi drawing between iPhones/iPods as well. It's worth $5 even though the basic version is free (3-10 years)

Pickin Time — Fun simple reaction-time game where you click on fruits/veggies as fast as you can. Works well when competing among several people to see who gets the highest score but game gets old quick (3-10+ years)

I've tried dozens more and deleted them all when my daughter grew out of them or no longer found them interesting. These have stood the test of time and lasted several months to several years, and most are just a buck or so.

Though I wouldn't suggest using these to ignore your kid or thinking that you just have to have them around all the time (crayons and paper are usually a bigger hit than an iPhone) these apps have come in handy when there's been dead time to fill and nothing to play with.

Break Bread for Brad

Mark your calendars for Break Bread For Brad at this year’s SXSW Interactive Festival. Friday March 12th, 5pm-8pm at the Mohawk.

View Larger Map

It’s not a wake, but a celebration, and hopefully we can continue the welcome gathering to open SXSW in future years. All who knew (or even knew of) Brad are welcome.

My personal feedback loops

As a sort of companion piece to the previous entry, I figured it might help other web writers to know what tools are available to them, as well as to possibly fill in some gaps I have in my own process (I bet someone reading this knows how to find info on the things I'm blanking on).

So there are several communities I'm familiar with that might republish or comment on something I've created and they are as follows:

  1. Twitter
    1. tweets mentioning my username
    2. tweets mentioning my full name
    3. my tweets retweeted
    4. my tweets marked as a favorite
    5. mentions of my blog posts in twitter
  2. Tumblr (any mentions of my posts)
  3. FriendFeed (comments on my blog posts and/or tweets)
  4. Delicious links leading to my blog
  5. Google Reader
    1. Number of times and who shared a blog post of mine
    2. Any "shared with note" of my blog posts
    3. Times someone hit "Like" on my blog posts
    4. Any comments on my blog posts
  6. Facebook (any comments or likes on my photos, blog posts, and/or tweets)
  7. Flickr (any comments or favorites on my photos)
  8. Other blogs linking to my posts
  9. Google's Buzz? (mentions of my blog posts, tweets, photos, comments on them)

Now, here's my toolset.

For Twitter, I check my "mentions" within various Twitter clients as well as a search for my username "mathowie" and my full name. There's a new "your tweets, retweeted" feature only available on twitter.com itself (is it in the API yet? I haven't found any other clients with this information). I'm a bigger fan of favorites than retweets and I usually find enough info from favstar, where I look at my recent posts with favorites, but of course that's an outside service that scrapes the content and it's not complete (I've tried 2 or 3 other twitter favorite trackers and they all report different # of favorites and often show different people). The service BackTweets.com lets me track a feed of mentions of my blog URL in any tweet and it does a pretty good job.

For Tumblr and other blogs mentioning my posts, I use an old citations search at bloglines set to search all RSS feeds for my domain. I do this for several domains where I write stuff. Here's the search for my personal blog URL. I've used this tool for almost five years and it still does the trick.

I have an account at FriendFeed, and it thankfully just emails me when someone comments on anything in my feed, which is handy and direct (but could get annoying if it was more than once or twice a day).

At Delicious, I follow a network of 63 people that mark interesting stuff and sometimes my own stuff shows up there. If not, I can do a backlink search and save the resulting URL to see how many people liked it enough to save it and if they said anything about it. I wish the backlink search let me look for anything with my domain in it, but it is specific to every single bookmark but something is better than nothing there.

For Google Reader, I'm pretty much in the dark. I once tried out the Firefox extension feedly and was taken aback by the tool's overlay on my blog showing tons of Google Reader activity on every one of my posts. My initial reaction was "who the hell are all these people and why didn't I know they were talking about my stuff before?!" I'd like to see some tool beyond a special browser plugin or bookmarklet hack for aggregating Reader activity on my stuff because it's currently a blind spot.

Facebook is much the same way. Once in a great while I look at web stats and I might see a bunch of facebook.com referrers and sometimes (if it wasn't followed from their main page) I can figure out where something I wrote was mentioned. This is another feedback black hole.

Flickr offers the wonderful Recent Activity page that I loved so much I copied it for MetaFilter. It's pretty much the ultimate tool for finding what has happened with your content on the network and I hope other services are watching and following suit. I would love to see an internet-wide tool that worked like this to track stuff people have said about my writing/photos as well as any followups on comments I left on any other blog. Many companies have tried, no one has succeeded yet.

Google Buzz is another new mystery. Given people can post links there, I have no idea where, when, how or what they've said.


That's about it, and I know there are other communities like StumbleUpon, reddit, and Digg that might rate and/or comment on my work, but I generally don't feel like tracking them and only occasionally see them pop up in web stats.

I'm aware it may seem like I'm sitting here pushing 25 buttons like a Skinner box every hour trying to figure out if people like my stuff, but really most of this stuff is automated as RSS feeds in Google Reader, so I can just pull up GR and see that maybe two new tweets mentioned my blog, four tumblr blogs reblogged something I said, etc.

If anyone has any tips on how to track your own URL mentions in Facebook or Google Reader (or Buzz), I'm all ears.

Broken feedback loops

Last summer I wrote this quick quip on twitter about my frustrations with Google Reader and Facebook comments:

Screen shot 2010-02-10 at 12.18.02 PM

Many years ago, people started building weblog ranking lists and then weblog search engines and eventually we had a rich set of tools that let you know what someone was saying about something you posted online. At first, these were often dubbed "ego search" and there were comparisons to navel gazing that early bloggers (myself included) were known for.

Over the years I realized tracking mentions of your work across the web wasn't merely for the ego stroke, it was quite a valuable bit of feedback. In addition to the direct feedback you might get on a post through your own comments system, following mentions in Technorati, RSS search engines (I still use bloglines' citations to do URL searches of my domains), and Delicious (which offers a simple backlink search) gave a broader picture of what people liked and disliked about your work. On places like Flickr that are more about sharing photos and sometimes about the nature of learning photography, direct feedback is key to becoming better at what you do.

Today Buzz launched and I realized my annoyance expressed last July was going to get amplified again as there was yet another new channel that could chop up any piece of micro-content I've produced and let people comment, rate, and share it without me having any remote knowledge of it unless I happen to follow someone that interacted with it. It's just like how Facebook doesn't inform me that this very blog post might be shared as a link there, and maybe 7 people hit the "Like" button and maybe there are five comments on it there that I can't answer because I don't know it exists. Google Reader, as much as I love it as a tool for reading blogs, suffers the same issues.

Let me be clear this isn't an ownership issue, it's not a frail ego issue, and it's not that I don't love remixing (I do!). My point is when there are half a dozen places someone can hit a like button or mark as a favorite or leave a comment that I have no knowledge of, the feedback loop is broken. 

When I think about the years I've learned to become a more concise writer and a better photographer by throwing shit online and gathering feedback, then repeating the cycle again, I'm dismayed to see all these new tools that lack appropriate feedback mechanisms that can relay information back to the original authors.

So to future application creators I ask that you simply respect the creators of content and help them improve by offering notification, search, and/or backlink capabilities so it's possible for someone to see where their creations end up. I know it's a lot easier to just consider it all "output" within your application, but the internet is a great communication medium not just for relaying information from anyone to anywhere on earth, but for also making it a dialogue between reader and writer. 

Don't break the feedback loop. 

Update: It might help other writers and photographers to know what tools I use (that you might not be aware of) as feedback loops. Here's a follow-up post about that.


Yesterday's Super Bowl was great. A perfect come from behind win that ended the way everyone wanted it to, with the Saints on top.

In the past, I've watched the game mostly to see the ads, but this year was pretty bad. Aside from the Letterman ad and the great Google ad, the rest were a mess of misogynistic garbage about supposedly manly men stuck in terrible marriages.

With that in mind, I present my version of the Google Paris Love ad, done as a continuation of the original, in the style of all the other terrible ads that played throughout the game.