Shutting Down My Other Blog

I’ve decided to shut down the blog portion of my technical website Digital Colony. It has been almost 2 years since my last post. When it comes to my web priorities it has always come in dead last. I don’t see that changing. After almost 15 years, that site only has 85 posts. Meanwhile this site has published 2,025 since December 2005.

What I am going to do is take the best articles from that site and move them over here. I’ll do my best to add them with the date they were written, so they won’t appear on the home page. But, they may appear on the RSS feed. Unless you dig code and tech talk, just ignore them. I’ll be back to bashing CrossFit, Quantified Self and PUFA shortly. :)

Digital Colony business card 20000

My business card for Digital Colony from back in the dot-com days. That was before I got the brilliant idea to convert the site to a technical e-zine. For the kids out there, e-zine was the term we used before blog became the standard.

Getting Mauled by a Panda

I was mauled by a panda. Not the panda you find at the zoo, but Google Panda.

Google Panda is the code name for the latest Google search engine algorithm. It is Google’s latest attempt at making their search engine results more relevant. Although it did not affect this site, it hammered my coffee site INeedCoffee. Google Panda caused a 40% drop in traffic. Other sites such as EZineArticles lost over 90% of their traffic.

Photo by Valerie

INeedCoffee has been around since April 1999. Granted it doesn’t post with the frequency of many other sites, but coffee is unlike other interests. A financial site might require multiple posts a day to stay relevant, whereas instructions on making a cup of french press coffee really don’t change from year to year. I wonder how much of the drop is based upon post frequency.

One thing I’ve learned about Google is they don’t respond to complaints, suggestions or even when you take the time to report bugs in their products. Reaching out to them is a waste of time. So what I am going to do? I am going to take the advice in this article and strive to make INeedCoffee a better site.

I have a list of ideas to improve INeedCoffee. The primary fix is going to be improving navigation. It is too hard to find specific articles on the site. I also plan to replace or remove the worst articles on the site. I’ll be sharing more details as I roll out the changes.

My technical site Digital Colony was also impacted. That seems fair since most of the articles are about technologies that have since been updated. Also, I discovered some sitemap issues which have since been resolved.


ASP.NET Site Performance Secrets

This past summer Packt Publishing found my technical website Digital Colony and liked it enough to extend an invitation to be a technical editor for the book ASP.NET Site Performance Secrets. The book has just been published and my name is in it. :)

ASP.NET Site Performance Secrets
ASP.NET Site Performance Secrets is by Matt Perdeck.

This is my first experience with editing. I learned a lot and I hope my feedback was valuable to the publisher and author.

How Developers Can Increase Their PayPal Donations

In the last year I have donated money to four developers via PayPal. Their code was of benefit to me and they had established a relationship with PayPal. Putting a few bucks in their tin was easy for me to do. Of the four developers, one did something that I deeply appreciated. He thanked me.

When we are out in public and we give money to tip jars or the open guitar case of a street musician, we get thanked either verbally or a smiling nod. This is polite behavior. If developers wish to increase their PayPal donations, I highly recommend thanking the people that voluntarily give you money. A simple thank you email takes no more than 30 seconds, but it lets that person know your appreciation.

thank you note for every language by woodleywonderworks

Earlier this year, I added a PayPal donation setup on Of all my sites it is one where a donation system seems the most appropriate. Developers can cut-and-paste my code into their projects and bill their clients or employer. If they deem the code helpful, I wanted a way for them to tip me.

I’ve received 4 donations and I’ve sent each one a quick thank you email.

My email thank yous probably won’t increase the number of donations I get, but it may make that person feel better about donating to another developer. And you might be that developer. So I encourage all developers that accept PayPal donations to say thank you.

Google Pulls Plug on Blogger FTP Accounts

Told ya. Two years ago in the post Death to Blogger, I said this about the Blogger FTP service.

I’ve been with Blogger since April 2000 and I’ve finally had enough. It is clear that Google has no intention of repairing the code that runs the FTP accounts. It is slow and buggy.

Today Google announced it will no longer support FTP accounts after March 26th. In other words, if you built a site using your own domain and the Blogger service, you now have less than 2 months to migrate to another tool or you will be forced to use Google as your web host. Some people have been with Blogger for a decade. This is going to suck for them. It took me weeks to move 2 years of blogs and update all the links and I’m good at this. The average Blogger user is about to experience some pain.

I am fortunate that I moved this site to WordPress two years ago. However, still uses Blogger. It can’t be rolled into the Google Borg because I host code labs on my domain. Looks like I’ll be putting the Digital Colony rebuild on the front burner.

Two years ago I told you Blogger sucked. I also warned you about BlogSpot. It is crappy code. Avoid it.

Web Goals for 2010

The primary focus of my web goals for 2009 was to redesign INeedCoffee. That never happened, because that goal changed intolaunching the new Coffee Hero website. Coffee Hero then became the clear focus for 2009. Also in 2009, got a redesign and DigitalColony now looks like Seattle instead of Southern California.

What is in store for 2010? Here are my web goals for 2010 in their order of importance.

This site was put on hold while I worked on my other sites. 2010 will the year I completely revamp the entire site. I hate Blogger and up until recently believed there weren’t any quality supported content management systems that met all my requirements and ran on an ASP.NET platform. Now, I have a solid lead that I think will work. I also need to make a 3rd version of the Amazon Link Builder. This site will be priority #1 for 2010.

I love the Sharpie redesign which came out in April, but it needs some tweaking. Look for a new version this month. Where is my Sharpie?

I launched this site using the PressRow theme, because I wanted to focus on getting content before making it look pretty. Now that the site has some content, it will get a face lift.

There are some things I plan on coding for the back-end content management system that will improve how the site uses tags. From a user perspective, I don’t expect much to change.

If I finish all the above projects, I will look into adding some more features for this site.

My only goal for this site is to just keep posting. There will be a minor photo gallery reorganization. Nothing that will impact this site directly though.

Amazon’s Weak Defense

After lashing out at Amazon for moving the images to books used by Associates, I got a response. Here is their defense.

It seems that you are using a Third party application to build your links. If that is the case you need to contact them about links breaking.

We offer online automated link-generating tools in Associates Central for the exclusive use of our Associates.

My response is, of course I’m using a 3rd party application to build my links. It is my application. I wrote it, because your crappy tools are incapable of generating valid XHTML code. I’ve even emailed you guys on how to fix your tools, but that fix was deemed to be a difficult task. Your words. Closing tags and lowercase are taught in beginner HTML classes these days.

Photo by Soumit Nandi 

But that is beside the point. The data used to build my links came from the Amazon API. My application asks Amazon directly for that information. I wrote my tool to conform with all their security requirements to retrieve the data needed to build those links. The links point to image files on Amazon servers. How is that the problem of the link building tool? FACT: Amazon is moving images on their own server. The paths to those images come directly from the Amazon API.

Here is what I am going to do to solve the problem. I am going to update the code on my Build Amazon Link With Image application. Since I can only be guaranteed that the image path is valid at the time I make the call, I will make a copy of the product image and host it on my server. Then the link built will point to the product on Amazon, but the image will be on my server. I am not happy with this solution, because it means that if the product media gets updated, my image file will be stale. But, I’d much rather have a stale image than a broken image link.

A Little Digital Colony History

In April, I celebrated 10 years of my coffee site For some reason I thought that my second site had a September birthday. I was wrong. After digging through old backup discs, I have uncovered that it went live in May 1999. Happy belated birthday!

Digital Colony 1999 Logo

Digital Colony logo from 1999

Last year I stopped adding new content (other than labs) so I could focus on the CoffeeHero project. Also, I hate Blogger and need to revamp the site with a better content management system. That project will have to wait until next year.

Digital Colony business card 20000

My business card from 2000 with the “no longer accurate” phone number smudged out.

I’ve always loved the name Digital Colony. Other people seem to like it too. In the past decade, I’ve seen several companies launch (and fail) using the name Digital Colony. I own the dot-com. I also have the user-name digitalcolony for GMail, Flickr, YouTubeDelicious, Facebook, MySpace, Blip and 10 more that I can’t think of at this moment. Despite all this, new companies still launch (and fail) using the DigitalColony name. Can’t they think of an original name? Another one just launched this year. I’ve outlasted them all. I’ll outlast this one too. The domain is registered through 2018.

Digital Colony 2004 logo

The Digital Colony Scfi-Fi retro logo from 2004-2007.

Where did the name come from? I found these sentences which I wrote back in 2000 that explain.

I named the company Digital Colony because in many ways the Internet today is a lot like colony. When a colony is setup there is plenty of work to do. Digital Colony is here to get some of that work done and help the smaller businesses accomplish their web goals.

That still rings true, except for the focus being on smaller businesses. I get more enjoyment when I am my own client.

Amazon Link With Image Tool Has Been Updated

Because Amazon developers are incapable** of creating affiliate tools that are XHTML compliant, I built one two years ago. This morning I updated the tool to add some additional stores. I also added the ability to create text only links. If you have an Amazon Associate ID, feel free to use this tool.

Build Amazon Link With Image

Link to the page if you like it. If you REALLY LIKE it, consider buying me a Le Creuset. ;)

Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 1-1/4-Quart Precision Pour Saucepan with Cover, Flame
Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 1-1/4-Quart Precision Pour Saucepan with Cover, Flame

** I emailed Amazon requesting an XHTML tool and they responded:

The W3 validator is very strict and constructing an HTML page which passes through it without any errors is quite a difficult task.

They have a market cap of $36.7 Billion and find XHTML to be a difficult task.

My 10 Year Web Commitment

Today I extended the domain registration for these domains out until July 31, 2018.

Why would I take on 10 years of registration costs now? I only saved a few bucks by extending out a decade. Last year I learned that the search engines look up the length of a website’s registration to assess value. Although there is debate online if the search engines look at it, according to the article Does the Length of a Domain Registration Affect Your Rank, Google does mention it in their patent.

According to the patent, “Certain signals may be used to distinguish between illegitimate and legitimate domains. For example, domains can be renewed up to a period of 10 years. Valuable (legitimate) domains are often paid for several years in advance, while doorway (illegitimate) domains rarely are used for more than a year. Therefore, the date when a domain expires in the future can be used as a factor in predicting the legitimacy of a domain and, thus, the documents associated therewith.” According to this statement in the patent, domains that expire in 10 years are more valuable and legitimate than domains that will expire in less than a year.

In the event the search engines don’t use this in their algorithms, oh well. I just pre-paid for an expense I was already committed to.

Alexa Rank Inaccuracies is a web site ranking system developed by They do their best to figure out web traffic patterns and then rank sites from 1 to (I think) 10 million. The top 3 sites globally are:

  1. Google
  2. Yahoo
  3. YouTube

You can find a site rank by using the search box on their site. FireFox users have a better option. They can install a plugin called SearchStatus. Then you can view the Alexa Page Rank of any website you are visiting by moving your mouse over the bottom right corner of your browser. If you are interested in seeing trends, this is a useful tool. However, I can prove that Alexa is not accurate using three data points.

SearchStatus tab

From March 1-14, here are the number of page views for 3 of my websites:

These are typical traffic numbers for a given two week period. One would expect DeepFitness, which has more than double the traffic as CriticalMAS to have a better (lower) Alexa score. In fact, CriticalMAS should have the worst (higher) Alexa score of the three sites. Nope.

Here are the Rage Ranks for the 3 domains as of this writing:

  • 289,924
  • 330,229
  • 648,553

Alexa is a great tool for measuring trends and seeing approximately how well other sites are doing, but it isn’t the gospel on true rankings. The numbers get more accurate the lower (better) the ranking.

I’d be interested in seeing more data points. If you have a domain and access to page view numbers for the first 2 weeks of March, I’d be interested in seeing your Alexa rank and total page view count. Note this offer does not extend to SPAMMERS or people too cheap to buy their own domain (BlogSpot, Typepad, etc.).

Web Empire 2008 Grade Card and 2009 Goals

Here comes yet another year end post. I’ll start off with how well I did with my web empire in 2008.

CriticalMAS: A+

Earlier this year I dumped Blogger and started using WordPress. I moved over 2 years of posts. Every photo gallery was linked back to the blog. All legacy content going back to 2000 was rolled into the new format. And I did it in a way that not a single link broke (301 redirects).

The frequency and quality of posts (I think) got better this year. Instead of fighting with Blogger, I was able to focus on creating content.

DeepFitness: B

Back in February, I coded some additional enhancements to the site. The number of XHTML compliant articles went from 1000 to 2000+. The site is 100% automated. For a while, Google rewarded the site with visitors. Then nothing for months. Recently the traffic has started to return.

Digital Colony: W

This site still uses Blogger and I vowed never to use that tool again. So I took a “W” or withdraw on creating new content for this site until I can move it to another publisher. I did create a new home page and logo which I think is much better than the old one.

INeedCoffee: I

The plan was to spend a few months moving old content into a WordPress database, just I like I did so successfully with CriticalMAS. I way underestimated not only the time it would take, but my comfort level with WordPress. I also had LOTS of computer problems this summer and fall. The redesign is still not completed, so I score this as an “I” or Incomplete.

MichaelAllenSmith: A

After a domain battle with GoDaddy, I was FINALLY able to setup a simple portal page on The design is very basic, but it serves its purpose.

Despite the continuing problems with the next version of INeedCoffee – it was a decent year.

2009 Web Empire Goals

  1. INeedCoffee redesign – This MUST MUST MUST be done by April 4th. Hopefully sooner. That is the 10 year anniversary date for the site.
  2. INeedCoffee new version – I expect to spend months after the redesign getting the site to run smoothly.
  3. MichaelAllenSmith redesign – Version 1 was a placeholder for a better design.
  4. CriticalMAS – Maybe create local versions of photo galleries that call SmugMug APIs? Low importance.
  5. Digital Colony – I’m thinking sometime in the 4th Quarter, I can revisit this site and start the move away from Blogger. It will also turn 10 years old this year.

New Coat of Paint For DigitalColony

Now that I’m firmly planted in the Pacific Northwest, I thought it would be nice to update the look of my technical web site Digital Colony. I traded the hot desert look of Joshua Tree for a photo I took of the Space Needle this afternoon.

Theme: Joshua Tree

digital colony v1

Theme: Space Needle

digital colony v2

Much better!

Web Goals and Predictions

While moving my blog posts over from Blogger to WordPress, I came face to face with a few old posts where I declared grand plans for my web sites. What became immediately obvious was how far off my predictions were. Everything was off. Although I exceeded my goals with DeepFitness, I fell far short with INeedCoffee. The CriticalMAS conversion went faster than expected. And as a result Digital Colony has suffered.

Where have I been wrong?

  1. INeedCoffee. Just a year ago I planned to start a new coffee web site to replace INeedCoffee. Then a few people talked some sense into me. INeedCoffee went commercial and everything changed.
  2. CriticalMAS. My plan was to keep this site on auto-pilot, but Blogger continued to get more and more buggy. Google’s unwillingness to fix Blogger for non-BlogSpot accounts drove me to redesign this site.
  3. DeepFitness. My goal was to have 800 XHTML compliant articles. Once I studied the traffic and how the site was making money that number was pushed up to 2300. The original goal was not sufficient.
  4. Digital Colony. The time spent on my other sites was taken from Digital Colony.

Along the way I did learn to not trust Alexa as a useful metric for site popularity. I’ve seen sites far more popular than mine with worse Alexa rankings. I no longer look at Alexa.

I hesitate to publicly state my web goals given my track record. Maybe it just takes time to get good at predicting? With that said, here are my immediate web goals.

  1. CriticalMAS. Finish moving all legacy photo galleries to SmugMug. This is time consuming since I need to locate the original photos. Moving eight years of content and handling redirects gracefully has been educational.
  2. INeedCoffee. Major redesign – both front-end and back-end. I owe it to my contributors to create a better showcase for their efforts.

That is it for now. I also have a brand new project in mind, but will not pursue it until these two immediate web goals are completed. I think. :)

Saying Goodbye to 11% of My PageViews

Way back in 2003 I went to a Chinese restaurant which used paper place mats. On my place mat was the Chinese Zodiac Compatibility chart. It showed all the animals and what years represented which animals. And it also showed which animals were compatible and which were not compatible. Before spilling Kung Pao sauce on mine, I folded it up and put it in my pocket. Once I got home I created a web-based version of the chart.


To my surprise, over the years that zodiac calculator became the single most popular page on the CriticalMAS domain. Recent numbers show it makes up for 11% of the traffic on this site. Now that my most of my photo galleries and writings are part of my new WordPress blog, it doesn’t make much sense to support a single rogue Classic ASP page on this domain.

Today I recoded the Chinese Zodiac Compatibility Calculator in ASP.NET and moved it over to my technical domain Digital Colony. All the redirects are in place, so in theory the 11% traffic I lose here will end up on my other domain. But we know Lord Google doesn’t like it when you move 5 year old pages. Oh well.

Bloggers Easily Build Links to Amazon Products

Bloggers will often link to media on Amazon. Many have affiliate accounts and earn a small commission if the link referral converts to a sale. However, the process of going to Amazon, locating the book, looking for the ASIN number and hand building a referral link that is XHTML compliant can take a while. Adding an image of the book or DVD makes it even more complicated.

It was too many steps for me, so I created a tool that I hope will be as useful to others as it will be for me.

Build Amazon Link With Image

To create the XHTML for the Toy Story DVD link and image below, I completed the form as such and hit Build Amazon Link.

UPDATE (10/21/07): Amazon now sells MP3s via their affiliate program. I’ve updated the Build Amazon Link form to handle MP3 Downloads.

Digital Pat on the Back

I just received a nice thank you for my Mask Email Generator. This page helps webmasters post email links in a way that greatly reduces unsolicited email (SPAM).

Thanks for being there for me!!!!

As you may know, there are several websites that will generate code to help you hide email addresses in a form. Some work – others are terrible. I needed something that would not cause Outlook Express to fail (as was the problem with one of the previous code generator websites I used). I tripped over your site as I continued my search. I used your “lab Generators” – and after making a few edits – and it worked.

Thank you very much for taking the time and effort to put up your site. You’re a good man.

Google Giveth, Google Taketh Away

Just a few days ago I was doing cartwheels over how much traffic had increased to my web sites as a result of adding sitemaps.

From The Importance of Search Engine Sitemaps:

Google referrals – DeepFitness
6/14/07: 71
6/21/07: 152
6/28/07: 755

Google referrals – INeedCoffee
6/14/07: 1,658
6/21/07: 1,509
6/28/07: 3,056

Google referrals – Digital Colony
6/14/07: 172
6/21/07: 168
6/28/07: 296

Looks like the page referrals were going vertical. The sky is the limit. No such luck. Instead of being the pathway to greater traffic, it now appears the sitemap was a mere sugar rush. Now I’m experiencing the sugar crash.

Here are the numbers from this Thursday:

Google referrals – DeepFitness
7/6/07: 86 (89% decrease)

Google referrals – INeedCoffee
7/6/07: 1,768 (42% decrease)

Google referrals – Digital Colony
7/6/07: 252 (15% decrease)

Some of the decrease could be explained away by the fact many people went on vacation this week. However, the reduction in referrals is too large to blame solely on fireworks and hot weather.

The Importance of Search Engine Sitemaps

After Carl convinced me that creating a search engine sitemap was a wise thing to do, I jumped headfirst into the project. Along the way I learned a lot. I even cranked out the ASP.NET Article of the Day on the topic.

Are the sitemaps working? Have they resulted in more web traffic from the major search engines? At this time Yahoo! is still asleep at the wheel. However, Google has taken notice with my web sites with sitemaps. The charts below use the last 3 Thursdays as a sample. They clearing show a huge upward trend in referrals.

Google referrals – DeepFitness
6/14/07: 71
6/21/07: 152
6/28/07: 755

Google referrals – INeedCoffee
6/14/07: 1,658
6/21/07: 1,509
6/28/07: 3,056

Google referrals – Digital Colony
6/14/07: 172
6/21/07: 168
6/28/07: 296

CriticalMAS doesn’t have a sitemap yet. I’m still restoring and moving old photo galleries over to SmugMug. Once that project is completed, I’ll add a sitemap here as well.

ASP.NET Article of the Day

The last week I’ve researched and coded multiple approaches to developing search engine sitemaps. After completing the sitemaps for DeepFitness, INeedCoffee and DigitalColony, I posted an article on what I learned.

Build a Search Engine SiteMap in C#

Today I discovered that Microsoft has listed it as the ASP.NET article of the day. Cool.

Updated SPAM fighting tools

The most popular page (by far) on my technical site Digital Colony has been the Mask Email Generator page. There are 2 tools. The first one helps hide your email address by using ASCII codes so those sneaky spiders have trouble finding email addresses inside the source code of a web page. The second tool makes it even tougher by creating an image of your email address, so just humans can see it.

This week I rewrote both tools.

Mask Email ASCII Generator
Mask Email Image Generator (Email Obfuscator)

Fun with SmugMug

Last year I started using SmugMug to host my photos. Prior to that I hosted my own photo galleries. In order to not exceed my allocated disk space, I trimmed each image down to a smaller size. In the days of broadband, it just makes more sense to have a dedicated media host like SmugMug or Flickr. Now all my new galleries are hosted outside this web site.

The problem with not hosting photo galleries is you send your audience away from your site over to their server. And your photo galleries develop their own audience which knows nothing about the parent site.

Yesterday I got the idea of using the SmugMug RSS feeds to build a gallery here on CriticalMAS, while the images reside on SmugMug.

SmugMug Image Gallery (moved to DigitalColony)

I coded this page using the XmlDataSource and DataList ASP.NET controls to pull image data for all my galleries onto a single page. It’s a little slow, but this page was just a proof of concept. The next version of CriticalMAS will bring fast preview galleries back to this site.

Mask Email Image Revisited

In 2002, I created a cool little tool that builds an image from an email address. The purpose is to allow people to put a contact email address on a web site without spiders seeing it and sending them spam.

This page is quite popular. So when my web host decided to remove the component used to make the image, I started to get a few emails informing me the tool was throwing errors. In order to get it back and up and running quickly, I hacked out some new code using the recommended replacement for that image component. The replacement produces a grainy image and can’t measure the height of the text inside the image. The result is my cool little tool is less cool than it was four years ago.

I’ll most likely rewrite the entire thing in .NET where I can better control the image quality.

Feb 2007 Update: The Tool was rewritten using ASP.NET.

Bulk GeoEncoding

Last weekend I was contacted by a guy in Illinois about my Using Yahoo! Maps GeoCoding API in C# article. In the article I show how to encode a single address using a mapping service provided by Yahoo!. This guy was interested in doing bulk encoding. He wanted to encode 25,000 addresses at time. This is too much work for a web page, but I was interested in helping him. So I wrote my first .NET Windows Console application which calls my previously written code.

The result was I was able to write a program that retrieved the latitude and longitude for 25,000 addresses. Sure beats writing Hello World! as my first command-line application.

Using Yahoo! Maps GeoCoding API in C#

Over the last few years, my professional site has become ignored. I never meant for that to happen, but on the priority list it keeps coming in last place. INeedCoffee has had a monthly commitment for almost 7 years now. This site has had a near daily blog for most of the last 5 years. And last year I put more effort into starting my community site RanchoSanPasqual and the rebirth of DeepFitness.

After a long hiatus from DigitalColony, I finally put out some fresh content.

This week I figured out how to extract latitude and longitude from a Yahoo! web service. The code is now available on DigitalColony. If you are into that sort of thing, check out Using Yahoo! Maps GeoCoding API in C#.