Slashdot 10th Anniversary Party

On Friday night, I attended the Slashdot 10th anniversary party. Well, I attended the one in Dallas, anyway. There were others all over the world. It was a fairly uneventful event. For reasons known only to himself, the organizer chose to have it in a small, noisy bar despite many suggestions of better (i.e. bigger, quieter) alternatives. So for about an hour and half 20 to 30 geeks shared a cramped space and engaged in conversations that went something like:

“Hi, is this the Slashdot party?”
“What?”
“IS THIS THE SLASHDOT PARTY?”
“Yes”
“What?”
“YES!”

Most people either shouted into the ear of the person immediately next to them or just gave up on conversation as not worth the effort and sat around staring at each other and waited for the organizer, who had the free T-Shirts. He eventually showed up shortly before the event was scheduled to end and passed out the shirts. A lot of people had given up and left already, so there were plenty to go around.

At a couple of points, the loud music stopped long enough to have some quick conversations and I learned that: 1) I was the only one there who ran Linux on my workstation or laptop 2) most people I talked to ran CentOS Linux on their servers 3) Everyone I talked to had tried Ubunutu and hated it 4) In every case where I could get specifics about what they hated, it turned out to be something I do on Fedora all the time (I’m pretty sure most of what they wanted to do could be done easily on Ubuntu as well, so I don’t know why they were having troubles) and 5) I was the only person there who actually wrote code for Free Software or Open Source projects.

Once I got my free T-Shirt, I headed home. It was too dark to snap a photo inside with my phone (no flash) so I shot one of the exterior of the Inwood Theater. The dark, noisy bar is attached to the theater’s lobby.

I haven’t forgotten the Austin Makers Faire. Full account coming soon. Stay tuned.

Nigritude Ultramarine Update

While it’s unlikely that my Nigritude Ultramarine FAQ is going to reach the number one spot on Google by July 7, it’s been more than worthwhile participating in the Dark Blue SEO contest so far. I’ve been able to document a lot of the search engine activity and have learned some new things. For example, I was aware of many black hat SEO tricks that boost a page in the Google results, but I had no idea there were black hat tricks to directly attack a competitor’s site and push it down in the Google results. My page has been the subject of one cloaked page attack and several fraudulent Google spam reports so far.

I can also tell you that it’s possible to get a completely new site listed in Google within 48 hours and that Google updates their results every 24 hours. The page rank trust metric, on the other hand, may only be updated once a month. My page was first listed on May 9th and still has a page rank of zero. I expect this may change sometime in the next week.

Even without using any devious, black hat tricks, I’ve managed to stay in the top 15 results, out of over 350,000, with nothing but good design, actual content, and a handfull of links (most of them due to the goodwill of a few other folks who enjoyed the page).

I did succumb to the temptation of one highly ranked link yesterday, however. I added a link to my contest page in the June edition of the Robot Competition FAQ, which is in the approved LoPIP and goes from news.answers to the RTFM MIT FAQ repository and eventually ends up on faqs.org. Faqs.org is one of those rare sites like ODP, a site with a Google page rank of 9. I don’t think this is likely to boost my page’s position in the search results much but it should give me a higher page rank, which can’t hurt.

Nigritude Ultramarine Update

Since my last post, the Nigritude Ultramarine FAQ, my entry in the SEO contest has been indexed by Google and is now showing up in the results. Unlike the hundreds of other pages out there, this is one of a handful that are actually intended to be interesting. It’s also one of the few that’s not using every dirty, black hat SEO trick in the book to try to cheat the Google rankings. No parasitic link farms, no referrer spamming, no keyword spamming, no page cloaking or any of those other things evil SEOs do to replace real Google search results with spam. Suprisingly, my page made it into the top 20 results anyway and is now bouncing around between position 9 and 12.

That makes me happy mostly because it means Google must be doing a very good job at resisting the SEO attacks so far if a purely information page is ranking that high. I have tried to optimize the page in the sense that it contains validated XHTML/CSS, minimal graphics, and correctly uses the meta description and keyword tags. And I seem to be getting some links to it from other sites, though nowhere near the thousands of links the SEO people are creating to their sites from link farms. Google showed 32k results this morning. There are only about 200-300 contestants so the rest of those must be sites linking to the contestants. I’ve probably got no more than 20 links to my page at present. (feel free to help me out by adding one, if you’d like!)

One thing that I found surprising is how far some of the SEO experts are willing to go to pump up their pages. Within two hours of my site being picked and shown in the Google results, someone filed a Google spam report against it. After doing some searches on SEO discussion forums, I discovered this is standard operating procedure for some SEOs. They file spam reports against any sites close to or higher than theirs in the Google results in the hope that Google will pull their competitor’s site from the database.

Nigritude Ultramarine

A recent slashdot article brought to my attention the DarkBlue SEO Challenge, a contest with the goal of getting a webpage to the number one position in Google’s results for the search phrase “nigritude ultramarine”. I decided to take a whack at it despite the unfortunate choice of words (most people I’ve mentioned it to seem to think nigritude has a vaguely racial-slur sort of sound – it actually means the “state of being the color black”.

The first step was to grab a domain, so I grabbed nigritudeultramarines.com from GoDaddy. The name was picked up by the root name servers last night and now I’m on the way. Most of the other pages I looked at were jokes or meaningless tangles of links connected to parasitic link farms. The link farms seem to be a typical trick used by SEO “experts” to attack Google’s Page Rank trust metric. In much the same way as if a user created hundreds of fake mod_virgule accounts at Advogato or robots.net and tried to certify their main account. Google’s page rank is somewhat resistant to this type of attack but if enough trusted sites link to the the attacker’s link farm, the attack can be successful. A favorite ploy is for the attacker to add domains to the link farms that are recently expired domains with ODP listings. ODP links have a very high trust value (as high as 9 or 10) and just a few such domains can boost the page rank of a parasitic link farm tremendously.

ODP has been putting a lot of effort into combating this and other SEO attacks. Google also expends a lot of effort tweaking their page ranking algorithms to untangle the mess SEO experts make of things. Thinking about this gave me the idea of making a purely information site built in the traditional Internet style to see how it would compare in the Google rankings to a typical “expert” optimized page. Would it be overwhelmed by link farm boosted pages? Would the Internet community favour links to it over the contentless pages? Would anybody even care? ;-)

To this end, I’ve created the Nigritude Ultramarine FAQ. It contains, you guessed it, frequently asked questions about the whole nigritude ultramarine thing. If you have a question about the subject, serious or not, feel free to stop by and ask it. And if you’d like to help me out, I wouldn’t mind a few more links from other sites. Just a simple contextual link with the text nigritude ultramarine – nothing tricky please; no contentless link farms, link spamming, referrer spamming, or the like.

The site has been up for a full 24 hours now and is already getting a fairly steady stream of visitors. The referers seem to be personal blogs, so someone noticed and began spreading the word before me. I have submitted the URL to Google but haven’t been visited by GoogleBot yet. I did get an unsolicited visit from the Ask Jeeves/Teoma spider within hours of going live and was also hit by the QuePasa.com robot today (not sure how either discovered the site).

So far I have aquired inbound links from several PR7 sites, so hopefully I’ll start out with a reasonably high placement in the search results. But on the other hand, some of the SEO folks out there have pages with 4,000+ inbound links from their link farms so this may be a futile exercise. Time will tell.

Update: As I was writing this entry, Googlebot hit the site. We’ll see if I make it into the results by tomorrow. I’ll make some webalizer stats of the traffic available if anyone is interested.

Experiencing The Slashdot Effect

We were on the receiving end of the slashdot effect last Tuesday. The timeline went something like this:

00:22Roger Arrick emails a link to a web page he just finished about his new computer chair.

09:59 – I finally check my email, and click up Roger’s web page. Recognizing Slashdot material when I see it, I email him back, warning him that I’m going to submit it.

10:36 – I give Roger’s server a quick review to see if anything needs patching or upgrading. I find a couple of minor security updates and install them.

11:10 – Story submitted to Slashdot

11:33 – Story accepted

18:36Story is posted by CmdrTaco (is a 5 hour delay normal between accepting a submission and posting it?)

18:37 – MRTG graph shows our bandwidth utilization maxed at 100%, where it stays for the next 6 hours. Fortunately, it’s after business hours so other clients are mostly unaffected by the slowdown.

00:30 – Bandwidth finally drops below 100%. Roger’s Linux/Apache server never skipped a beat, serving all requests that could get down the pipe to it. I tried hitting the box from my cable modem at home and it was really slow but working. There were a few complaints on Slashdot from people who couldn’t see the site so I’m sure some requests weren’t making it through. Several mirrors popped up pretty quickly.

07:00 – Suprisingly bandwidth usage started climbing again about 4am CST and we are maxed out again this morning. The story has a way to go before it scrolls off Slashdot’s front page.

10:30 – The story finally scrolls off the front page and hits start slowly dropping off.

Hits on Roger’s server remained much higher than normal for another two days but things are mostly back to normal now. Roger received a pile of email during the course of events and will probably be posting the more interesting items on the page over time. The most surprising thing in all of this was how many Slashdot readers didn’t understand CmdrTaco’s ^H^H^H humor.

Living Life and Writing About It

Life and Stories

Yikes, I’ve let too much time slip past since my last entry again! Seems like when I’m doing things worth writing about I get too busy to write. And when I have time to write it’s because I’m not out doing anything worth writing about. Didn’t Sartre say something along those lines? (one quick Google search later):

For the most trivial event to become an adventure, all you have to do is start telling about it. This is what deceives people: a man is always a teller of stories, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything which happens to him through these stories; and he tries to live his life as if it were a story he was telling. But you have to choose: live or tell…While you live, nothing happens…but when you tell about life, everything changes.
–Jean-Paul Sartre ,Nausea, 1938

That about sums it up. When I’m busy living, there’s nothing new here on my home page. One has to wonder what Sartre would have thought of weblogs.

mod_virgule

Having spent some time hacking on mod_virgule, I’d have to agree with Raph’s comment about scalability issues. I don’t see any reason the trust metric algorithms themselves couldn’t be scaled up to a site the size of Slashdot if needed. Any slowness on Advogato is just due to file I/O from the particular XML setup. And now that mod_virgule is seeing active development again, I’m sure any performance issues with the XML will be addressed before long.

Photography

I’ve been spending the weekends lately playing with some new lenses I picked up on eBay. After a bit of practice, I’ve managed to get some decent shots of a variety of birds. One of these days I’m going to get around to putting some photo galleries up here on my web site. My latest toys are a set of extension tubes for macrophotography. With spring on the way, I’ll probably be out trying to get some interesting shots of insects and the like. Getting the extension tubes proved to be my one bad experience in more than a year of buying and selling on eBay. I was a little hesitant to bid at first due to some negative comments the seller had (speaking of trust metrics – eBay badly needs a real trust metric system!). Anyway, I bid and won the tubes, sent a check (which was immediately deposited), and then heard nothing for weeks. I emailed the guy to find out what the hold up was and got an email saying the item had “just been shipped priority mail”. After another week I started getting various random excuse ranging from family problems to lost passwords. Eventually, he stopped replying to my email altogether. Then the guy’s eBay account was mysteriously closed. I contacted some other people who had bought stuff from him and discovered they too had paid but not received anything.

At this point I contacted eBay and they recommended filing a mail fraud complaint. They also provided the phone number the seller had given for his eBay account. I called the number only to find it belonged to a relative of the seller. They gave me another number and told me in somewhat more colorful language that they had nothing to do with the guy and didn’t think very highly of him. So I called the number they gave me, talked to someone who claimed to be the daughter of the seller, and was promised that I would be contacted shortly. I explained that this was my last effort and that if nothing happened, I would probably follow eBay’s recommendation of pursuing a fraud complaint. Four days later a package arrived with my extension tubes. In the future I’ll probably follow my instinct more closely and hopefully avoid sellers like this one.