Happy First Birthday, ResearchBuzz Firehose!

A year ago last week, I launched ResearchBuzz Firehose. The idea was to create a place where I could post individual RB items and tag them so they would be easier to find. The idea was also to make it easier for readers to follow categories, tags, and keywords, if they had specific interest.

At this writing the Firehose has over 4,900 posts. Broken out by category, they cover this spectrum:

  • Around the Search & Social Media World (1,217)
  • New Resources (1,114)
  • Other Things I Think Are Cool (48)
  • Research & Opinion (368)
  • Security & Legal Issues (593)
  • Tweaks & Updates (931)
  • Uncategorized (25) (This is also known as the “Tara screwed up” category)
  • Useful Stuff (650)

How did I put up so many posts in a year? Look at it this way: ResearchBuzz is ideally two posts a weekday – a morning post with 12 items, and an afternoon post with 10 items. That’s 22 items a weekday, or 110. Then I do a Saturday and Sunday edition – that’s another 24 items, or 134 items a week. That’s 6968 items over 52 weeks – the Firehose doesn’t match that because I don’t manage to do two editions every weekday.

But it gives you the idea – ResearchBuzz covers a lot of ground! You should see the stuff I read and don’t post.

But it’s no good at all if it doesn’t do you and good. When the site launched I wrote an article on how to best use the Firehose for content discovery. If you missed it, you can check it out here: https://researchbuzz.me/2015/06/23/introducing-the-researchbuzz-firehose-how-to-use-it/.

As always, if there’s anything I can do to make this site and resource more useful to you, just let me know.



The Learning Curve of Learning Curves

I admit to you freely that this is a little off the ResearchBuzz path, but this resource saved my bacon. And I figure bacon-saving (or tofu-saving, or chicken-saving, or whatever your protein of choice for saving) is a universal desire.

One of the many tasks in my Real Job is graphic designer. I’m competent at it, in the sharp-cornered, slightly awkward way of someone who has zero natural aptitude for a task but who studies and practices diligently in order to build skill.

My boss asked me to design a sales flyer. There wasn’t a lot of time to do it, so I quickly wrote up some copy (that I can do), thought about it for a few minutes, and then shoved it into the back of my mind so my subconscious could chew on it while I took care of more immediate tasks.

Later that evening my subconscious went bing! and I had a pretty good plan for a flyer.

For a while everything went according to plan. Got some graphic elements together, got a layout, fit in the copy. It looked pretty good. I was over half done with it, congratulating myself, when I realized I had made a big mistake:

I needed a curved text element.

In fact, I needed five of them.

I normally use GIMP when I’m designing, or if it’s not something really complicated I use PicMonkey. Curved text in GIMP is not something that comes easy to me. I knew it could be done, so I went and found some tutorials, then tried to follow along with my own flyer.

The results would have been great if I was designing a flyer for drunk Scrabble players. Alas, I was not.

At this point it was about 10pm. I complained on Facebook (as you do) and my friends suggested using Inkscape, but I did not have time to climb up that learning curve. So I went hunting for an alternative.

And I found it on GRSites, at http://www.grsites.com/generate/group/1/ .

That site is a logo designer. You can pick out a texture if you want one or a color if you don’t (and you can specify a hex color), font (you can even upload a font if you want), some special effects, etc. And you have a choice of curving the text up or down, with each orientation having seven different options.

This is ResearchBuzz with a slight up curve:


And this is ResearchBuzz with the greatest down curve, which is actually a circle:


Using this tool I was able to quickly generate the five curved text items I needed – I think it took me about ten minutes. And the flyer was finished.

Now, were they perfect? No. The kerning was a bit weird on one of them, and in another case the curve was a little odd relative to the graphic image I was using. But at the same time they looked fine, and certainly a hundred times better and a hundred times faster than I could have done myself.

GR Sites is not free – you can play with the tools all you like but to download/save items you’ll have to have a subscription. I was more than happy to pay $12 for a month’s access to all the tools on the site (there’s an icon maker, etc.) It saved me far more than that in time and all the hair I would have pulled out doing it myself! If the site is something you think you’d use a lot, yearly subscriptions start at $69 (and according to the pricing page, education discounts are offered.)

Because of all the folderol about sponsored posts and so on, I feel I must make the following disclaimer: GRSites is a product that solved my problem so I’m telling you about it. This isn’t a sponsored post. The GRSites people don’t know me from a hole in the ground. They don’t know I’m writing this post. I gave ‘em twelve bucks and I was happy to do it. Etc.

If you find yourself with graphic design tasks and you need a curved text element, but you’re not a hotshot designer, this is a great tool. It isn’t perfect and it isn’t free, but it’s very good, and will save you a tremendous amount of time.

Are We Having a PHP Spam Wave?

I have, at this writing, 137 Google Alerts set up. They cover all kinds of resources for all kinds of keywords all over the Internet. And as you might imagine, I do occasionally get a bit of spam in my alerts – a site that has suffered PHP injection or some other hack, and which is now spewing out gunk that trips my keywords.

I used to send the site a note with a screenshot letting them know, but as 99% of the time I got no response, I gave up on that mostly. I still occasionally do it but the response is the same – nothing.

Anyway, I was checking through my Google Alerts this morning and had found that one particular Google Alert had started generating a lot of spam. Check out just a couple of screen shots:

Screenshot 2016-06-20 at 08.32.37 - Edited

Screenshot 2016-06-20 at 08.30.08 - Edited

Here was the Google Alert that was suddenly filled with spam:

intitle:”how to” intitle:(facebook | snapchat | instagram | twitter | “social media”)

You can do this search from the Google site. Use the “Search Tools” option to search only results for the last 24 hours and you will find a lot of spam. There are even a couple on the first page of results:


Based on what I can see from the spam on the sites, this looks like PHP injection stuff, but I’m not knowledgeable enough to say for sure. I’ve searched the news to see if there are any stories on this, but I can’t find any.

It’s this kind of garbage that drove me to hosting  ResearchBuzz at WordPress.com. I want to focus on generating good content and helping you, not constantly worrying if I’ve got a bad theme or a plugin that’s about to blow up in my face.

If you prefer to host your own WordPress blog – and more power to you – I strongly recommend you set up a Google Alert aimed at your own site so that you can catch this stuff if it slips through. Let’s use Radians College as an example, since last month I wrote about how its site is overrun with spam (SPOILER ALERT: it’s still overrun with spam.)

A Radians College IT person might set up an alert that looks like this:

(viagra | cialis | “make money” | forex | instagram | facebook) site:radianscollege.edu

At this writing you will get over three thousand results if you run that search on Google.

Of course, some of your alerts might be false positives but those should be obvious. In my experience sifting spam out of my Google Alerts, the hot words and phrases right now are ”make money” and Instagram. I left the drug names in there since those are the keywords that have traditionally come up the most in the .edu spam I see.

You could, of course, get more general by adding terms like craigslist (run the search craigslist site:radianscollege.edu on Google) or social media. You’ve got a balancing act here: the more general terms you use, the more false positives you’re going to get. On the other hand, the more “spammy” the keywords you use, the more likely you’ll miss something if the hot keywords shift.

Whither KeepVid?

EDIT: It appears KeepVid is Back!

Sometimes you want to download something from YouTube and hang on to it. Not because you’re interested in violating copyright or overthrowing The Man or anything like that, but because you’re worried that it will go away or that you’ll want to look at it somewhere where the Internet access is dodgy.

Anyway, when I was in that situation my go-to site was KeepVid. And now it appears KeepVid is no more. When you go to KeepVid.com you get something that looks like this:

What Happened to KeepVid?

I went and checked the domain registration for KeepVid at Whois.sc and apparently the domain information changed today, so this is really recent.

According to the same registration information, the domain doesn’t expire until March 2018, so I don’t think this is a case of forgotten renewal. Is it that KeepVid has finally folded to threats of legal action? The KeepVid Twitter account hasn’t been updated in well over a year, and the Facebook page not since January 2015.

Anybody out there know what happened? Any thoughts about alternatives to KeepVid?

Google Giving Answers in the Search Bar – Is This New?

I’ve been using the calculator trick on Google for a long time. You use the calculator trick on Google when you’ve got some simple math you need doing. Just type the problem into the Google search bar along with an equal sign and you’ll get the answer, like so:

The Calculator Trick

So I knew Google was giving some answers in the search bar, but I had never seen anything in the search bar besides math. Until this morning.

I found an announcement about a new campaign finance site, and to test it I wanted to make sure I knew how to spell Pat McCrory’s name. (As I try to make ResearchBuzz as politically-neutral as possible, I will simply note that Pat McCrory is governor of North Carolina. Only the Google Doc I wrote this on will have note of all the other things I called him until I remembered I don’t have a legal fund. Anyway.)

As I was typing out the search on Google, Google gave me the answer in the search bar:

Screenshot 2016-05-30 at 05.21.15 - Edited

I had never seen that before. So I tried another political search, this one a bit more historical:

Screenshot 2016-05-30 at 05.22.45 - Edited

Cool deal. So does this work with everything? I tried first black woman in space. Alas, this didn’t work, though Mae Jemison does rate a Google Knowledge Card:

Screenshot 2016-05-30 at 05.23.26 - Edited (1)
Wondering if I had maybe used the wrong terminology, I tried again for first African-American woman in space. Alas, this result was worse:

Screenshot 2016-05-30 at 05.24.39 - Edited (1)

No card, no instant results. (Of course, once I activated the search I would get pages and pages of results.)

I tried a lot of trivia-type stuff and didn’t get any results, and searches for non-US politicians didn’t get me any results either. Anybody else seen this?