Site News

Introducing Prime Focus

I told myself I wouldn’t start any new projects. However, in an effort to prevent pretty space pictures from completely taking over this blog, I’ve started a tumblelog on the subject of space photography. It’s called Prime Focus. It’ll be a spot where I can post my look-at-the-pretty gushings over the latest imagery from Hubble and other space telescopes, Cassini and other spaceprobes, ground-based observatories, and amateur astrophotography; it’ll also be where I can dump astrophotography-related links.

It’s a tumblelog, so it’s strictly links and photos (with captions); if I have anything more substantial to say on the subject, it’ll still be here.

A note on DFL

Despite the fact that it generated little notice during the 2008 Beijing Games, it’s looking increasingly likely that DFL will return for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler. Among other things, the opportunity to take pot shots at my country while it’s hosting the Olympics may turn out to be too much for me to resist.

In the meantime, I’ve been posting Olympics-related news and snark on the DFL Twitter feed (which not very many people subscribe to).

Belated eighth anniversary

I almost forgot: yesterday was this blog’s eighth anniversary. If you’ve been reading me for that long, or even for a substantial portion of those eight years, I’m quite frankly astonished: I’ve covered a lot of ground in that time, and the focus of my blogging has changed with my interests. When you add new interests and hobbies, diving into them wholeheartedly each time, as often as I do, you know you run the risk of trying the patience of your regular readers. A few of which, apparently, I have. Not many — most of you, I believe, are coming here from search results — but enough to keep doing this.

So … what should I write about next?

More entries below »

Browser usage and coding for Internet Explorer 6

Internet Explorer 6 has been the bane of my existence as a web designer for years, particularly since (a) I have no computers that run Windows at home, so IE 6 is not readily available, (b) IE 6 does things in a stubbornly different fashion compared to other browsers, and (c) I’m not that good a web designer. So I can test my designs against Safari and Firefox, and occasionally a more recent version of IE, like IE 7, that does a better (i.e., more standard) job of rendering web pages, but IE 6, not so much — except when I have a spare moment at work. And, a recent check shows that, once again, web pages that look fine in the browsers I do have access to look like crap in IE 6.

It’s Netscape 4 all over again: that old browser did a horrible job of rendering CSS, but its installed base meant that it took years to go away. The question is: has IE 6 gone away yet? Are there few enough people still using it that it’s safe enough to ignore compatibility problems?

Using Google Analytics, I had a quick look at my visitors’ browser usage. The answer is: a definite maybe.

Continue reading this entry »

The Map Room’s new design

A new design for The Map Room went live today. If you think the design looks familiar, you’re right. The resemblance to this site is no accident. Call it a a failure of imagination on my part (or, to be more charitable, going with what works), but I think a text-based design works when talking about an inherently visual medium like maps. Best to get out of the way of your subject.

Site updates

I’ve been working on updates to this site over the past couple of weeks. Major changes are now complete:

  • A new astronomy section that collects all the astronomy, astrophotography and space material I seem to be putting out at a furious rate lately.
  • In the reptiles section, I’ve added to or updated the existing information, added some new photos and icons to most pages, and created a book store for reptile-related books, in and flavours.
  • The trails section gets new maps (including a main map page), redesigned trail main pages, and improved individual photo pages.

That’s it for major changes (which to be honest aren’t all that major); all that’s left is probably a few minor tweaks to the templates and stylesheet.

Shrinking ad revenues redux

I’ve been crunching the numbers since this post. In terms of Google AdSense revenues, February 2009 was my worst month since May 2005. I’m now making about half as much as I did two years ago.

My average daily income from AdSense declined while I worked for Health Canada full-time beginning in the summer of 2007, stabilized a bit when I went part-time in January 2008, and rebounded during the summer of 2008. Since last fall, it’s absolutely plummeted — a function not so much of my posting frequency, I think, but of the recession’s impact on the online advertising market.

Looks like I’m going to have to watch my pennies a little more closely from here on in, to make sure I stay out of debt. That, or I’m going to have to take on another contract sooner rather than later.

What I can do to improve my sites’ revenues is something I’m still working on.

Who my audience is

Scalzi notes that blog entries written years ago tend to be among the most-visited pages on his site — a reminder that what you write online does not disappear after you’re done with it. “Contrary to the popular opinion that everything written in a blog is evanescent, in point of fact, good material is visited constantly no matter its age, and the visitorship of Whatever’s archives have a significant effect on the site’s overall popularity.”

Apropos of which, I recently signed up for Google Analytics, so that I can do a little more than guess about who my readers are and what they’re interested in. I’ve only had it running since the middle of last week, so I don’t have much to report yet, but here’s a relevant piece of information so far:

Pie charts showing search engine, referring and direct traffic for, and The Map Room

These three charts show, for my three most-visited sites —, The Map Room and this one — where my traffic is coming from: search engines, referring sites, and direct traffic. And search engine traffic just kills the other categories: 82 percent for, 59 percent for this site, and 71 percent for The Map Room. Even links from other sites generate more hits than my regular readers.

What this says about the relative importance of a regular readership, I don’t know, but it does suggest that, in the grand scheme of things, I’m writing things down so that people can find them later (via search engine), and that blog archives are, as Scalzi suggests, important.

Right now, the second-most popular page on The Map Room, after the index page, is, to my great surprise, this minor entry on custom icons for Google Maps, posted in September 2007. It’ll be interesting to see if any other old pages surprise me with their popularity.

Questions and answers

I make a rare appearance on LiveJournal to participate in one of the less-silly memes that propagate there: a friend asks me five questions, ranging from food to photography, and from snakes to science fiction; I answer them.

Jennifer’s in on the fun as well: her answers to different questions posed by that same friend are here.

On a related note, I’ve started something on that I’ve been meaning to start for years: a questions-and-answers section. People write me with garter snake questions all the time; if they’re okay with it (I have a checkbox on the form), I will now post their question along with my answer. Allows my e-mail reply to do double duty: they get an answer, I get another post out of it, other readers get more information. The situation could not be more full of win.


Well, that was stupid of me. Thinking that I was shutting down another site, I nuked the WordPress install for the Pontiac Archives site, leaving nothing but an empty directory. That was on January 26. Today I got an e-mail from Jean asking what happened to the site. I thought it was going to be another PEBKAC moment until I saw that empty directory, and suddenly realized that I wasn’t paying close enough attention when I clicked that button last week.


So a rather intense interval was spent this afternoon rebuilding the Pontiac Archives site. The end result is not bad — I picked a new template that I rather like, and was able to streamline the about pages a bit — but the previous entries will probably have to be accessed via the Wayback Machine.

Shrinking ad revenues

As expected, the recession is taking a bite out of my website ad revenues. January’s revenues were 12 percent lower than December’s and nearly 30 percent lower than my revenues for January 2008. It’s also a whopping 42 percent lower than my best month in 2008, July. Traffic does not seem to be much different, though I haven’t looked into that very closely. Revenues from Amazon’s affiliate program don’t seem to be off as much, either. While the online ad market appears to be taking a hammering, people are still buying books and stuff.

Were it not for the fact that the Canadian dollar has lost a fifth of its value in the past year (the above percentages were calculated in U.S. dollars before conversion), things would have been much worse for me. Fortunately, I have money in the bank and no debt, so if I watch my pennies for the next little while, I should be all right. Or at least less worse than I could have been.

DFL will return

A brief note here — though I’ve mentioned it elsewhere — that yes, I will be doing DFL again for the Beijing Olympics. I’d been hemming and hawing about it until Monday night, when a conversation about it turned into a long rant by me about the Olympics — that clinched it. On Tuesday I redesigned the blog template — it’s still off the shelf, just different — and started up a DFL page on Facebook. New posts will not appear on the blog until Friday, August 8, but I’m already getting ideas for material to relaunch with.

Authentication vs. filters

You know authentication alone is effective in preventing spam when you look in Movable Type’s junk comments folder and the only things you see are legitimate comments. So I’m turning off the spam filters system-wide: too many false positives. And some very old comments have just been published.


Incidentally, today marks this blog’s seventh anniversary. Neither obscurity nor irrelevance nor gainful employment shall keep me from my appointed task.

FriendFeed and

About a month or so ago, stopped posting a daily digest of my links to this blog, a feature that’s been working for years. Rather than tinker with it to get it working again, I’ll just move these links over to the sidebar. Lots of interesting things on the sidebar, you know.

I also now have a FriendFeed account, which could help you keep track of my scattered Internet activities.

2007 in web traffic

All told, my sites got around 1.6 million pageviews in 2007, up a bit from the 1.3 million received in 2006. Not bad at all, considering that I wasn’t paying as much attention to them during the last five months of the year, what with the job and all.

How do those numbers break down by project?

Continue reading this entry »

Putting the culture into herpetoculture

Three more articles are now available on this site: one is new, two are old; all three deal with the social aspects of reptile keeping.

The Art of War on the Online Forums was my editorial for the September 2000 issue of The Ontario Herpetological Society News: it was a response to the flaming and nastiness on what was then the most popular reptile board, at least among my reptile-keeping friends and colleagues. I tried to parse out some of the more common causes for antisocial behaviour. (Since then, there has been an abundant literature on moderating online misbehaviour, but if it existed then, I wasn’t aware of it.)

How Volunteer Organizations Work — And Why They Don’t, my December 2000 editorial, was me using my bully pulpit to make a point about the OHS. A club needs to earn its membership: you can’t expect people to join your club without giving them a good reason to, I argued. It was a warning against inertia. Prescient, I suppose, because the OHS folded a few years later, pinned between volunteer burnout and membership indifference.

How to Write an Article for a Herp Society Newsletter is so new it hasn’t seen print yet: Bob will probably publish it in Chorus, the OARA’s newsletter, in the fall; I couldn’t wait that long, so here it is. In it, I identify some of the more common mistakes I’ve seen reptile hobbyists make when trying to write newsletter articles. As a newsletter editor, I always wanted more articles, but getting people to write them was hard. Getting good articles was harder.

There is a reason for posting these articles: I plan on doing some more writing on the theory and practice of amateur herpetological societies. Given how far behind I am on all my projects, I can’t say when I’ll have more to say on this subject, though.

Site design changes

I’ve been working on an updated site design, and have been implementing it on a few sections of this site. Some pages might be a little strange in some browsers from time to time in the meantime. Concomitantly I’ve been working on updates to the About and Reptiles sections, and will eventually spruce up the Hire section. The front page has also been overhauled, though I have no idea — yet — what it looks like in Internet Explorer. I’ll test that later today.

DreamHost and revealing feedback

DreamHost, my hosting provider, has been having a whole mess of trouble lately — enough that I started a separate blog to chronicle any outages and downtime (see previous entry). Yesterday, I noticed that rebuilds on Movable Type were abominably slow — it took as long as 10 minutes to rebuild if I saved an entry. I suspected a MySQL or network issue. So I opened a support ticket.

Continue reading this entry »

WordPress for outages, Vox for — I don’t know yet

I needed a WordPress API key for an anti-spam plugin; signing up for that gave me a blog at, which of course I had no idea what to do with. Seemed a waste to leave it fallow, but I really didn’t need it.

I have now found a use for it, as an off-site place to report on outages. Many web sites have an alternate address, hosted independently, where they can tell you what’s happened when their own network has gone blooey. It’s happened to me often enough that I can see the value of it; also, minor outages (like e-mail) can be reported there rather than be peppered over my network.

Continue reading this entry »

Subscribe by e-mail

The usual way to receive automatic site updates is through RSS, but not everyone knows about RSS or knows how to (or cares to) use it. If you’d prefer, you can subscribe to this blog via e-mail; use the form on the sidebar at right. Once you’ve subscribed, you’ll be sent a daily digest of all the day’s posts.

Five years

Today marks the fifth anniversary of The McWetlog and, as a result, my five-year anniversary as a blogger. This is, if you can believe it, The McWetlog’s 2,070th post; in the past five years there have also been 1,252 posts to The Map Room, 116 posts to DFL, and a whole bunch of posts elsewhere. I dabble.

In that five-year stretch, I have gone from an underworked, overpaid government employee who blogged to stave off boredom, to an underpaid, overscheduled, full-time/semi-freelance blogger who never has enough time or energy to keep ahead of all the work. Five years ago, I would never have imagined it — who would?

Design changes in real time

I’m fooling around with the site’s design at the moment, so things are liable to look rather weird for the next couple of days or so, until I settle down and stop playing with the CSS.

Movable Type 3.2

I upgraded The McWetlog to Movable Type 3.2 this afternoon. The process was tedious more than anything else: perform a backup, read the documentation carefully, do a metric arseload of FTP uploading (a paid licence for Transmit came in handy here), run the installer script (which used Ajax; Safari’s cache had to be cleared before it would run properly).

This is yet another task I’d been procrastinating for months. Movable Type upgrades always intimidate me because they’re not an automated process, but in the end they’ve always turned out fine.

DFL post-mortem

When I was in the midst of preparations for the Torino 2006 version of DFL, I privately predicted that I would get less traffic than I did in 2004, but possibly more revenue — and that I would get more traffic in the first week, but less in the second.

I figured less traffic on the basis of less global interest in the Winter Olympics and, as a result, less media interest to drive traffic to the site. I figured more revenue because I thought my AdSense ads would perform better despite the reduced traffic — I’d placed my ads very poorly in 2004, so despite huge media interest I made very little money. (One wants to be rich and famous; one would prefer to be rich rather than famous; I ended up being famous without being rich.) So I anticipated better results.

The question was, would I be right, and by how much?

Continue reading this entry »

Pontiac volunteer group web sites

I’ve been working on web sites for a couple of local volunteer groups that I’ve been affiliated with, and this week I launched them as WordPress-powered blogs: Pontiac Environmental Protection (or PEP) and the Pontiac Archives. These are my first WordPress-powered projects ever: I’m in unfamiliar waters. Hacking WordPress is quite different from Blogger or Movable Type: it uses PHP directly, rather than proprietary tags. The blogs are still using the default template as a result, and I’ll have lots of tinkering to do as I learn more — it is me, after all — but so far people seem happy with them.


My more substantial RSS feeds are available in OPML format, for those for whom such things are significant.

Preparing for DFL’s return

I spent most of the past weekend tinkering with the design of DFL, in preparation for that project’s relaunch on February 10. Yes, DFL — the blog about last-place finishes at the Olympics — will be coming back for the Torino Winter Games. Last time it was a spur-of-the-moment idea that ballooned into something huge; this time I expect that it will not be nearly as big, but I want to be better prepared anyway.

Continue reading this entry »

New links without breaking the old links

Just like that, I changed all the links in this blog: all archive, category and individual entry pages now have new URLs and are new directories. There are good (albeit anal retentive) reasons for doing this. You shouldn’t notice a difference because I’ve forwarded all the old URLs to the new ones. Only Movable Type geeks will be interested to know how I did it: an .htaccess file generated from an MT template.

Photos, Projects, RSS

Some quick site updates. The photos page has been redone to match other recent redesigns. The “Projects” link on the top menu bar now leads to, the front page of which I redesigned last week. And there’s a new RSS page that acculumates all my various RSS feeds; it turns out there’s a lot of them. RSS auto-discovery on this site has been tweaked as well: only the McWetlog’s pages will have the auto-discovery link to its RSS feed; other pages may have nothing or their own specific feeds (as an example, at the moment Photos has my Flickr photostream for its RSS auto-discovery link).

Blogging during outages

I wonder why it is that when my sites go down (as it did this morning, due to a router issue at DreamHost, my hosting provider), I end up blogging more than when I do when everything’s up and running?

At least I’m channeling my (legendary) impatience into something productive.

A site update omnibus

I’ve been doing a lot of work on my web sites lately, on the premise that when my ankylosing spondylitis flares up (as it did from mid-October to early November), I’m better able to write code than I am to write blog entries. (This has happened before; during the spring flare season I coded a whole pile of things, too: see this entry and this entry.) I can’t quite explain why, but it seems to work, and at least I don’t feel unproductive.

On this site, I’ve changed the front page again (see previous entry). While I liked the previous design in that it aggregated all my recent blogging activity from all my blogs, it was a bit buggy, and the sheer volume of Map Room posts drowned out everything else. Now each blog has its own section, with the most recent five posts for each blog. I’ve done similar redesigns on the Books and Reptiles pages; I’m still not happy with the latter, and expect to tinker some more with it. This blog has had a few stylistic changes as well, and I’m going to fool around with the category archives, too. On a more significant note, the contact page has had more detail added to it: media and reptile inquiries get additional fields in their contact forms.

The Map Room was a little more quiet during this period due to the pain, and a bit of burnout, too; I still managed to redesign the site a bit more than a week ago. My goal was to reduce clutter, and I did so by ditching the blogroll, rearranging the ads and increasing overall white space. While comment spam has been more or less vanquished, I still get a lot of bonehead submissions through the link suggestion form, so I tightened that up yesterday.

To my surprise, I’ve been posting fairly frequently to Ankylose This! — if you haven’t checked in on it lately, you may want to see what I’ve been writing about.

It’s only about a year behind schedule, but finally got its store last week, containing the usual CafePress tchotchkes, knickknacks, and other treasures — but with garter snakes on them! I’ve put up a bunch of stuff so far, but I’m hoping to add more over the next couple of days.

New front page

A new front page design, with links to the most recent entries from all my sites, is now up. I’ve tested it on Internet Explorer this time.

(P.S. It’s my first successful cron job, too!)


This blog is four years old today, which means it’s lasted longer than some marriages I’ve seen. Spooky.

Useful Music

More than three years after I uploaded an old conference paper and a couple of sidebars from my graduate school music history research, I’ve finally completed Useful Music. Completed, both in the sense that work is finished and in the sense that it’s closed; at one point I thought I might do something with it, but not now. It’s a memorial to the plans I had before I ran, screaming, from academe. Looking back on it, I’m surprised at the clunky writing and lack of insight; apparently I’ve come a long way in a decade.

Changing links

Those of you who read this blog via its RSS feed may have noticed that all the daily links from my account disappeared today. They’ll be back, but in the blog proper, not just spliced in via one of Feedburner’s neato features; in other words, the links are moving from the sidebar (from which they have also disappeared today). It won’t appear here until I actually post a new link to, so until then I’ll have no assurance it’ll work, but it should look a lot like what Matt and Paulo have on their blogs. (See Paulo’s entry for a how-to.)

In a similar vein, I’ve manually spliced in the tag-specific feeds for my links into my category archives: for example, the ten most recent links tagged with “mac” will show up in my Mac category archives. It’s an imperfect implementation, but it’s more than adequate for now. (I used this plugin to implement the <MTIfCategory> tag, inside each of which was a specific call to the relevant feed using this plugin. Repeat 39 times. A little labour-intensive.)

My goal, in all this monkeying around, is to make all these links more visible, so you don’t miss them. Hope it all works.

Minor modifications

Now that things have settled down a bit, I’ve started tuning up this site here and there. While I procrastinate some of the more ambitious changes (i.e., an overhaul of the Hire section and this blog), I’ve worked on tightening things up a bit in the About, Contact, Photos and Reptiles sections. I’ve also given Trails a major redesign; it now matches the rest of the site, and should work better, too.

More changes

I’ve been making some changes to the template that I hope don’t break things in IE 6. If you’re using Internet Explorer for Windows and this site doesn’t look quite right, could you let me know? (A screenshot would help.) I shudder every time I use clear: both; inside a floated element.

(Once we move to the new place and I have more room, I’ll plug Jennifer’s old Win98 laptop into the iMac’s ethernet port to test pages in IE, but right now there’s just no space for it.)

Another change: I’ve discontinued trackbacks, which were a major source of spam. Considering that I’ve only received three legitimate pings since the start of this calendar year, this seems a safe thing to do.

I’m also planning to reintroduce comments, but it may take some time before I can get that done.

Doing right by CSS and Ontario Herpers

I’ve actually ordered a couple of CSS manuals from Amazon; this thing with style sheet inconsistencies is driving me nuts, so I should get a better handle on them. So far most of my CSS trickery has been trial and error, with whatever browser I’m using at the time as a default. I need to do better than that. That’s going to take more time.

Stewart pulled his projects from Ontario Herpers, including Herp Journal, without warning, which forced me to update that page. I neglect that domain; I only update once a year or so. I ought to spend more time on it.

It’s all Internet Explorer’s fault, honest

I don’t normally have access to a Windows machine. Every time I redesign my site, I run the risk of having it look completely awful in IE 6 for Windows, if not failing altogether. Well, I’m in Orillia right now, working on the redesign for this site (the new version of which should be up and running by Wednesday), and I finally had a look at this here site as it appears with IE 6 since I redesigned it last month.

Ouch. Sorry about that.

Fortunately, the site works — it just looks awful. (And the front page is even worse. Dammit.)

Once I’m done this project and am back home, I’ll have to turn to fixing it up. And maybe bite the bullet and drag Jen’s old laptop out of storage for Windows browser testing purposes.

Of course, you could all just switch to Firefox, on which this site has been tested and works perfectly.

Feed consolidation

I’m consolidating my RSS feeds: all feed subscribers — that’s a theoretical concept if there ever was one — should be automatically forwarded to my Feedburner feed (see previous entry). Let me know if there are any technical difficulties.

Changes that are also hopefully improvements

My ankylosing spondylitis has flared up again — it’s the season for it — and while it’s having an impact on my writing and correspondence, it looks like my ability to code is unchanged. (How much ability I had in the first place, well.) Ironically, the absence of office-related pressure seems to help my productivity — viz., I’m productive, if not communicative. But I digress.

I’ve been mucking around with this blog’s categories — especially Movable Type’s new subcategories, which don’t work the way I thought they would, in that a post assigned to a subcategory is not automatically assigned to its parent. The category URLs have changed around a bit. It’s still in progress. (See the archives for a category list.)

So far, though, I’ve separated out posts about our pet reptiles into their own subcategory, which, along with some tomfoolery with Flickr RSS feeds, allowed me to revamp the collection page. I’m not completely happy with the results, so I don’t think I’m quite finished there, yet, either.

A long time coming, but finished yesterday: a site map that covers all four of my domains as well as all my web stuff wherever it may be. I drew my inspiration from Jessamyn’s page, especially in terms of arranging things by topic as well as by location. I’ll try to keep this reasonably up to date.

Finally, I’ve gone and finished the mobile version. I don’t suppose there’s someone out there with a PDA or mobile phone out there who could, you know, check that site for me?

New front page

The new front page looks fantastic in Safari and Firefox, if I do say so myself, but I’m dreading that it’s just going to look broken in Internet Explorer for Windows. (It looks pretty bad in IE 5.2 for the Mac.) I’ll probably have to keep tinkering.

A farewell to #556677

Like the new site design? I sure do. I’m happier with how this site looks than I’ve been in a while. After more than three years in some shade of blueish grey — usually #556677 — I’m trying something different. Most of the changes are CSS related, or could be done in the PHP site template, so once I settled on the new design, changing over most pages was a cinch. Still a few loose ends to tie up, though, especially the front page, as well as some photo pages.

Movable Type upgrade, part two — fixing comments

Comments — which on my Movable Type install are only enabled on The Map Room at this point — went blooey a bit. At the outset, I tried enabling TypeKey registration and moderating unregistered comments: TypeKey logins would be posted immediately; otherwise comments would wait in a moderation queue until I approved them. Except that didn’t work: TypeKey information wasn’t passed on, and all my test comments were moderated. A bit of checking led to a possible cause: my MT install is on, but The Map Room is on — the authentication system uses cookies, and cookies cannot normally be passed between domains. I’m sure a hack could be worked out eventually, but I lack the l33t sk1llz, and I’d already spent the better part of Thursday getting this far.

So I decided to leave things unauthenticated, but bolstered my spam fighting with the following tools: DSBL, which checks comments against a blacklist of open proxies; and Real Comment Throttle, which limits the number of posts from any IP (since spammers routinely attack with multiple IPs). I’ve set a limit low enough to catch even a small-scale spam attack, but high enough to allow my usual comment volume. I still close comments on entries older than 45 days, and now comments are force-moderated on entries older than 10 days.

My spam-blocking is not as absolute as it would be with TypeKey, but it’s quantitatively better than it was before I upgraded. (I should also mention that MT-Blacklist works much better on Movable Type 3.1x than it did on 2.6x.)

All my other plugins seem to still be working, including CloseComments and RSSFeed. A tip if you’re upgrading: delete your old MT-Blacklist. Having both Blacklist plugins running can lead to some strange side effects, including multiple e-mail notifications and forcing every comment to be moderated, regardless of your settings.

Movable Type upgrade

Upgraded my Movable Type installation to 3.15 overnight. Overall it went far more smoothly than I had expected: the way some people were carrying on, you’d think this upgrade was equivalent to a Linux kernel rebuild. It took a few minutes to back up all my blog entries, a couple of hours, at most, to upgrade Movable Type, and another couple of hours to rework my Map Room individual templates so that they’d handle TypeKey registration. Everything seems to work at that end, but there’s no guarantee things won’t go blooey over here once I click on the “Save” button. Crossing my fingers.

Trail maps

While waiting for Internet service to be restored, I scanned in some topo maps and drew lines along the trails I’ve hiked, at least for the trails I had maps for. (Couldn’t do Bow Glacier Falls because the map was damaged at that point; the Chephren Lake trail highlighting is conjectural.) Now up on the Trails section.

Minor changes

Design updates and navigational improvements at Trails; a new Books page that combines a books category archive with a complete archive of the “Recent Reading” sidebar; a larger Flickr badge for the My Photos page. More updates to come, some to these very pages.

An update on my updating

I’ve been busy lately. It’s fricking cold out — the kind of weather that generates nostalgia in this expatriate Winnipegger — so I’ve been staying in and making good progress on updates to a few of my projects. Around here, I’m continuing to tinker with this site’s design, updating old pages and making sure that the new design doesn’t go blooey on IE 6 for Windows, which happens all too often because I don’t have ready access to that browser/platform combo. That, and because of IE/Win’s non-standard (read: assy) CSS implementation.

One new thing that isn’t just a fixup is the “Recent Viewing” sideblog over on the sidebar (except on individual pages): we’re trying to watch more movies, so I’m keeping track. Similar to the books I’ve been reading, which I’ve been keeping track of for a while.

Elsewhere, I added a new feature to The Map Room last week, called Map Questions: it’s meant as a way of dealing positively with all the questions I get about maps (because of that site) that I simply don’t know the answer to. So I give my readers a crack at it. Speaking of readers, The Map Room’s got a lot more of them lately: here are some stats. And it keeps growing: this month’s average daily page views is now more than 1,700 (it was about 55 in July). Holy crap. Ad revenues haven’t been too shabby either: not enough to live on, but a small, steady stream.

Over on Ankylose This!, I’ve signed up a few more people who wanted to join. It’s not high-traffic by any means, whether measured by traffic or by posts, but I’m happy with how it’s turned out so far; critical mass seems just over the horizon. launched at the end of September (previous entry), but I haven’t done much with it since. One of my goals for January was to rectify this, and today I gave its design another going-over. I’m a little happier with how it looks now. (Before you ask, the big, dark green patches around the page headers will eventually have interesting background images.) I’ve still got lots of catching up to do in terms of getting some posts up and updating content, but this is, at least, a start.

Pardon the dust

Things are wonky today as I try to deal with IE rendering issues. If you’ve been using IE 6, though, I gather it’s been wonky for a few weeks anyway.

A little redesigning

Design changes all over the place. First I wanted to redo the front page to make it a bit more usable — providing at a glance the sort of information someone visiting my site might be looking for (most recent entries, snakes for sale). It’s also now partly a disambiguation page — from that page you can get to nearly all my projects within two clicks.

Then I ended up applying the changes to the rest of the site — several sections are already changed over; the rest will be done sooner (or later). Most of them are minor: principally, the sidebar photos and the maximum width of each page. Hopefully these are changes for the better.

Probably lots of rendering errors on IE/Windows, which I’m unable to check. Send in your bug reports, with screenshots if you can provide them.

Sidebar redesign

As you may have noticed, I’ve been farting around with a new sidebar design over the weekend. It is now ridiculously wide, which has some advantages (a Flickr photo that both fits and is large enough to see properly). I will probably keep tinkering with it until I’m satisfied, if that ever happens.

Site changes

I’ve been a busy bee.

  1. The sidebar has been redesigned to reduce clutter. There are some changes to this blog’s navigation menu as a result, but for the better, I think.
  2. Minor changes to the style sheets in the same vein.
  3. The reptiles section is back to its former strength: it now has a page about my collection and a summary of my field herping activities (not just my life list). Both pages will almost certainly be expanded in the near future, but at least something’s up now. However, the big news is that, after much delay and procrastination, I’m selling snakes via this web site again (the FAQ is back up too). I think I’ve mellowed enough to be able to deal with customers again.

Still to do:

  1. More reptile galleries: the 2003 spotted turtle survey, mudpuppying, and 2002 Murphy’s Point adventures.
  2. Flesh out the field herping and collection pages.
  3. Redo the photos page.
  4. Update my résumé and put in a cover-letter style introduction in the “hire” section.
  5. A new front page.

New project: Ankylose This!

You may well ask what I’m up to when I’m not declaring war on half my family and friends. You may wonder what my follow-up to DFL will be. Wonder no more. Announcing Ankylose This! — a group blog about living with ankylosing spondylitis.

Like DFL, it’s a Blogger-based blog (oh boy) that makes use of a furnished template rather than one of my own questionable designs. (This makes for quicker launches, less procrastination, and a focus on writing — which is what I’m good at — rather than design.) Unlike DFL, it’s a group blog: I’m hoping that other AS-afflicted bloggers will contribute.

I don’t think there’s anything else like this (though I’d love to be proven wrong). Certainly not for ankylosing spondylitis: most sites are community support groups rather than blogs. No idea how this will turn out, but it could turn out very well indeed.

Mishaps expected as this site is redesigned

Expect some weirdness and broken things as parts of this site are moved over to a new design. Much of the site has already been updated over the past week or so, as some of you no doubt have noticed. Today I started changing this blog over to the new design, but I’m not finished yet; as of this moment, for example, the sidebar will be wonky on the monthly and category archive pages and the individual entry pages.

There is some new content here and there, though, if you know where to look for it. I’ll have more to say about that later on, when my head doesn’t hurt quite so much.

Quantifying “holy shit”

Traffic for DFL throughout its active lifetime: from August 15, when I started it, to August 31, when I wrote the last entry:

DFL traffic

It was posted to MetaFilter the night of August 22/23, which provided a slight uptick from the west coast on the 22nd. The traffic on the 23rd was wholly MeFi- and blog-driven. By the afternoon of the 24th the Reuters article had been filed and had begun to disseminate among online news sources, including Yahoo! News. From there other news organizations — if they could get a hold of me, since I was getting six to ten media requests every morning, too many for me to respond to — began picking up on the story.

This is what snowballing looks like.

Points of failure

Persona’s fibre-optic cable connecting its Pontiac-area customers — in Bryson, Campbell’s Bay, Île-du-Grand-Calumet and Shawville — to the rest of the world was cut at about 2:30 yesterday afternoon. It’s taken until about half an hour ago to be reconnected; I’ve been offline in the meantime, naturally.

Fibre cuts can sometimes mean days of downtime even for large population centres, so I should count myself lucky that I’ve only been off for 18 hours. Still, for a web junkie like me, 18 hours can feel like forever.

One of the things that bugged me about Blogger, in re the preceding entry, was that it represented an additional point of failure. Most of the time, when doing my web projects, I have to deal with a minimum of two: my ISP, Persona; and my hosting company, DreamHost. Both are far from perfect: Persona’s DNS server has an annoying habit of crashing, sometimes several times a day, which means I’m off for a minimum of half an hour each time. And the server on which my domains are hosted periodically reboots, meaning that they’re unavailable for 20 minutes or so — which isn’t bad, considering, but those 20 minutes always seem to happen when I’m trying to do something. (To their credit, DreamHost is always excellent in keeping its customers advised of serious problems, so I’m reasonably happy with them.)

Adding a third point of failure was just asking for it, I guess. (Probably one reason why I went to Movable Type last fall.) All things considered, though, everything held up reasonably well during last week’s craziness. I shouldn’t complain too much. mcwetboy

I’ve started one of those thingies. I will use it to power a link sideblog and will integrate it into the sidebar sooner or later; I’ll need to run a cron job to wget the file to do that, so I’ll need to learn how. In the meantime you can click on it right now, and there are RSS feeds for the whole thing and for individual topics (and combinations of topics, if you can believe it). This is extremely easy to use, and ideal for links-only blogging.


Announcing a new project of mine, that will last for the duration of the Olympics: DFL, a blog that celebrates last-place finishes at the 2004 Olympics. (I don’t need to tell you what DFL stands for, do I? I should talk; I only found out this afternoon.) Anyway, hope you enjoy it.

Comments closed

I’ve decided to close down comments on this blog. Existing comments will remain, and I may open up comments for specific posts in the future, but from now on the default setting will be not to have them.

Comments came when I switched this blog to Movable Type from Blogger in November 2003. Since then there haven’t been many legitimate comments — 64 in total, many from me. My readers, such few as there are, do not appear to be the commenting sort. But more time has been spent weeding out comments from comment spammers (MT-Blacklist helps but there is some effort in maintaining the list), clueless types who think that an individual post on a personal blog is in fact a bulletin board for all comers on the subject, and, most recently, a family member who was using the comments to smack me around a bit online.

The experiment, in other words, was not a success: I was beginning to spend more time dealing with, worrying about or reacting to comments than I was writing the damned entries themselves.

Continue reading this entry »


Today marks the third anniversary of this blog (first, second).

As personal blogs go, it’s surprisingly impersonal most of the time, with occasional forays — as you’ve no doubt noticed recently — into extremely raw, personal territory.

I’ve been thinking about this a bit: about writing with emotion, about writing personally revealing subject matter, and about public blogging as a way of overcoming excessively high personal barriers. I’ve been planning a post about this, but it’s been stoppered. Suffice to say that I have plans to be more vividly personal, partly as an exercise in catharsis, partly as a challenge to myself to be bolder and more fearless about what I write.

I’ll explain it in more detail once I’ve figured it out myself.

Healy Pass

Remember how I said that the Healy Pass photos would be up in a few days — back in April?

Ha. How little you understand my inability to choose which photos to use. (Drove Dave nuts at the paper: I’d give him a full card of photos and he’d only want a few — I just couldn’t figure out which ones were good.)

Anyway, they’re up now: 30 photos from Geoff’s and my hike of the Simpson Pass—Healy Meadows and Healy Pass trails (see previous entry).

The trails section has had another redesign, too — replacing tables with CSS elements. It may not look 100 per cent on Internet Explorer, but you’re not supposed to be using that browser any more anyway.

Unless I happen across a store of forgotten photos somewhere, that should be it for photo galleries on the trails section until I go hiking again.

Comments fixed

I screwed up the code when I redesigned the individual entry pages last week; comment text disappeared when you tried to post a comment. Figured it out, fixed. Post with impunity. Unless, of course, you’re a comment spammer, in which case I will delete your post, add your URL to the blacklist, ban your IP, and pee on your dog.

Mobile edition

A mobile edition of this blog is now available, for that infinitesimally small fraction of my miniscule readership that wants to read my insignificant blog with a puny gadget. Can I help you tiny mortals?

McWetlog redesign finally done

It only took me five months, but the individual entry pages have now lost their default Movable Type templates and now match the rest of the site. There have been minor changes to the other weblog pages as well. There will probably be some more tinkering with the sidebar, but the blog redesign is essentially complete — for the time being.

One important fix is that commenters’ e-mail will not be publicly posted if they do not enter a web site.


The projects section summarizes all my ongoing projects — all Internet-based (sites, pages, mailing lists, tribes) at the moment.

Trails page redesign

It’s been up for a week, actually, but now I’ve finally got enough of the bugs worked out that I can finally mention the redesign of the trails section of this website. In addition to a new layout and appearance, I’ve also finally added pictures from my hikes to Eiffel Lake and Citadel Pass. These hikes took place in 1988 — when I was just a lad of 16 — and the photos are scans from slides.

Next up is the long-overdue page on Healy Pass, which I hiked in the summer of 2002 (see previous entry). It takes me forever to get around to updating the trails section — the Eiffel Lake and Citadel Pass pages were first conceived in 1999 — but I’m hoping to have that done in the next few days. (Really!) There are nearly a hundred pictures to choose from and process, and I’ve been procrastinating that rather big task.


Sites hosted by my hosting company, DreamHost, were down for most of yesterday after one of their routers failed; once they were back up, shortly after noon yesterday, the accumulated traffic backlog crashed several of their servers, causing even more downtime. So all of my sites, along with several tens of thousands of others, were unavailable for much of yesterday. But it looks like all is well again.

More site updates; garter care page

A bevy of small improvements to the site today as I procrastinate more important tasks, including a revamp of the garter snake care page, which now has something above and beyond the downloadable PDF — links to sites and books about garters. At some point it will be replaced with the large-scale garter snake information site that I’ve been planning, off and on, for over three years, but at least this blows the dust off of what’s already there.

The Map Room is back

Upgrades to The Map Room are finally complete: a new design and a switch to Movable Type that allows for comments, categories and trackbacks. And I’m posting again, catching up on the submitted links that have been accumulating in the meantime.

The Map Room makes a list

The Map Room has made Fimoculous’s list of blogs of the year (via Anil):

27) The Map Room — I love niche publishing, especially when it’s a niche worth adoring. A site all about mapping? I’d probably pay for this.

This is as good a place as any to mention that I’m in the process of switching The Map Room over to Movable Type at the moment, which means rewriting the template and other tinkering activities. Hopefully the delay in posting new links won’t be any more noticeable than the usual delays in posting that have plagued that blog of late. (Two words: day job.)

Note: Entries prior to November 2003 did not have categories assigned to them, and are not included in category archives; please consult the monthly archives.