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March 28, 2006

Commission Junction

I was updating some of my web pages and found out that buy.com had lower prices on some items than Amazon. Sometimes the difference was pretty significant so I thought it wouldn't be right to avoid linking to buy.com just because I get a commission at Amazon. But of course that made me wonder if buy.com had an affiliate program. Turns out they do, but they run it through a third party called Commission Junction. That company has a bunch of other advertisers as well, so you can promote all kinds of different things, but the commissions are lower (3%) than Amazon. I decided to sign up since it is free anyway.

The sign-up was kind of a pain. I had to agree to three different screens of terms and conditions. I don't think I had anything like that with Amazon. So right off I was a little put out with them. I only link to about three things at buy.com and they aren't the big sellers that I link to Amazon, so the bottom line is I have only gotten a handful of clicks and no purchases so far. During the same period Amazon has been pretty slack as well, so I will give them a couple of more weeks, but if it doesn't look like I'm going to make much of anything I think I will get out of the program and link to buy.com products anyway.

March 27, 2006

Katie on the Mend

Today I took Katie in to have her stitches and staples out. She was very excited that I put her on the leash this morning, but disappointed when we had to get in the car. The doctor said she is right where she should be, using her leg, but not putting a lot of weight on it. This is about where she was before the surgery. In the first entry I said I needed cheese to get Katie to take her medicine but, after buying the cheese, I remembered that isn't how I get her to take medicine. Instead, I buy Alpo chunk-style canned dog food. I can put a pill completely in one of the large chunks and she eats it without chewing. Clio likes it because she gets chunks too; hers just don't take as long to prepare.

Anyway, we're all done with that. The incision is healing up really well. With her other leg it had opened up a little bit due to swelling and her taking a couple of staples out, but this time she didn't have any problems. Once her fur grows back (her leg is mostly back to being black after being shaved and all white for the surgery) you probably won't be able to tell she had surgery.

I still can't take her for walks for another six weeks (I've been walking Clio some, but not twice a day like I usually do). Then I take her in for x-rays and hopefully she will get a green light for taking progressively longer walks.

March 19, 2006


My indoor/outdoor thermometer started giving bad outdoor temperatures a few weeks ago. I decided it was time for a new one and was on the lookout for something on sale. At Target they had thermometers on sale. I could get an Oregon Scientific one with a wire outdoor sensor for $8. But for $10.48 they had one (Model RAR188A) with a wireless outdoor sensor (model THN122N) and it let you add two more sensors which is appealing because I'd kind of like to know how hot or cold the the attic gets. So I bought it. It worked fine (though the first one I had was the best because it not only recorded the low and high temperatures, but the *time* those occurred; I haven't been able to find one like that since). But I wondered about adding sensors. On Amazon they had compatible outdoor sensors (I couldn't find the same sensor model sold individually, though I did find out that Radio Shack's thermometers are the same as Oregon Scientific but with a different brand) but they were $20 and more. I thought it would be cheaper just to buy another $10.48 unit just for its outdoor sensor (the sensor has a switch that can be set to Channel 1, 2, or 3). After thinking about it for a day, I went back up to Target and got another one (in metallic blue; they also had iPod mini colors pink and green). But what I didn't realize at first was that I could use both indoor units to read both sensors. So I put one in the kitchen and one in the bedroom and they both can read outdoor and attic temperatures. Pretty cool.

It wasn't actually all that cool at first. The new one worked fine, but the one I bought yesterday wasn't recognizing the new sensor. I tried changing it to Channel 3. It still wouldn't recognize it. I thought yesterday's thermometer must not recognize Channels 2 and 3. But I knew the new sensor was working becuase I could read it on the new themometer. I put the new sensor right next to the old thermometer thinking it was having a hard time getting acquainted. Nothing. I changed batteries in the sensors. Nothing. So I decided to switch the new sensor to Channel 1 and the old sensor to 2 and see what would happen. Eventually the old thermometer didn't recognize either one, even when I put the old sensor back on Channel 1. I finally gave up, took the batteries out (it didn't come with batteries, so they were mine) and put the old one back in the package to return it to Target. But for some reason I decided to try one more time. I put the batteries back in the sensor and then back in the thermometer. It recognized both sensors! Now I looked at the new thermometer and it had stopped recognizing the old sensor. I finally realized that the thermometers only look once for a sensor and then never look again. So the sensors have to be running before you ever put batteries in the thermometer. And if you change the channels, you have to take the batteries back out of the thermometer again. That means you have to enter the time and date all over again, which is why I had avoided taking the batteries out of the thermometer earlier.

March 16, 2006

Open a Window

For the Engineers Association website, people submit newsletters to me as Word or PDF documents and ask me to post them to the website. I thought it would be good to have those open in a separate window since they are not html documents. I searched for the tag that would do that, but quickly found that it requires javascript. Also I found a site that said opening new windows was one of the top ten bad things that web designers can do because if the user wants to open a new window they can do it themselves and opening a new window messes up the Back button since you can't go back from a new window (you have to close the window).

The function I needed was window.open. I found a function that would do it and then you would call the function (in fact I used that when I made the covered bridge navigator), but I wanted it to all be in the link without a separate function call. By searching for "window.open" and "href" I found the exact same guy's web page, written 4 years after his original warning to avoid opening a window, saying that for non-web documents it was best to open a new window because when people open a .pdf document they usually close the window to get rid of it and then lose their place and have to start the browser from scratch again (which is exactly what I always do). However he did not provide any code on how to do this. I soon found a really good way to do it by using the HREF to go to the .pdf file, but adding an onClick that would cause a new window to open. Then you have the best of both worlds: when someone mouses over the link they see where they are going, they can even download the file by right-clicking it, and the link still works even if they've turned javascript off. But if they have javascript running, it will open a new window when they click it.

The code below opens a new resizable window 700 pixels wide (enough for letter size width) by 500 pixels vertical, without toolbars:

<a href="newsatl06.pdf" onClick="window.open('newsatl06.pdf','mywin','left=20,top=20,width=700,height=500,toolbar=0,resizable=1'); return false">February 2006 Newsletter</a>

You can also see it in action

March 13, 2006

Out Clicks

The counter I use on my website added a new feature today (at least I just noticed it today) called "out clicks". Site Meter has always been great because it tells me how (most) visitors get to my site: Since the referring URL usually contains the search terms, I also can see what words they used in their search on Google, Yahoo, MSN, or Ask Jeeves. They also supply the entry page, exit page, total pages viewed, local time, browser, operating system, etc. But I never knew where they went when they were done. Now, apparently, I will sometimes find that out.

The "out click" field shows the link on my page they clicked on and where that link leads to. For instance, in the example below a guy in Oregon, working for Xerox, used Google at 10:46 AM local time to search for "ipod aa battery," and visited 7 pages before finally clicking on the "$14" link for the Griffin PowerPod iPod car power adapter (I'll find out tomorrow if anybody bought one of those). However, it doesn't track everyone, maybe 10% of visitors. That may be because either they didn't click on a link on my page or they had javascript turned off (most of the stats require javascript).

Pretty neat. Also amazing how much you can find out about a visitor when they come to your web site.


March 11, 2006

Fraud Robot

Today as I was watching a Nature program I had recorded, I got a phone call. I answered it and was greeted by a robot voice. Before I could hang up, the robot identified itself as being a fraud alert on my Citibank credit card. It said there had been some suspicious activity on my account and asked me to verify two recent transactions. The first was for $10 at Kroger (which, because robots is stupid, it just called "grocery supermar"). The second was for a couple of thousand dollars at "veterinary specialists" for Katie's operation. Oooohhhhh . . . I said it was okay, but I'm glad that got their attention.

Clark's Nutcracker

I was watching an episode of Nature on PBS about animal intelligence. One of the case studies was the Clark's Nutcracker which lives in the American West (their example bird was at the Grand Canyon, which may be because it made for better scenery). I knew that birds do some amazing things. Migration is no picnic, but there are bower birds that build elaborate houses to attract mates and woodpecker finches in the Galapagos that use sticks to fish out bugs from trees. Anyway, the Clark's Nutcracker likes to eat pine nuts, but they are only around for three weeks of the year. So apparently it picks as many as it can and then hides them by burying them in the ground and sometimes marking the spot with a small pebble. It seems like it would be easier to store them all in the same place, but it scatters the nuts out over hundreds of square miles, only putting a few in each place. It then has the memory to come back later in the year to retrieve the nut. That's a good trick, but the amazing part is that during that three week period it will hide as many as 30,000 nuts and retains memory to retrieve 90% of the nuts it hides.

The show was Part 1 of the 3-part series that was done in 2000 but is being shown again. Part 2 is this weekend.

March 8, 2006

Katie's Other Knee

Katie has been limping around a lot lately, with some obvious problems in her back right leg. Two years ago she had to have knee surgery on the back left leg, and these symptoms looked very familiar. She doesn't whine or whimper, but it obviously gives her so much trouble that we've essentially stopped taking walks. Because the specialist who treated her last time only works from referrals, I took her to my vet last week and got the referral (this time I made sure they didn't x-ray her which last time cost me $200 to put her under and have the x-ray taken, only to have the specialist use his own much better x-rays that didn't require her to be under anethesia).

Before I took her in today they had said that if surgery was required they might do it today. That meant I would get her back tomorrow and I signed leave for that day and Friday to stay home with her and make sure she doesn't have problems or move around too much.

The doctor examined her and said she did need the surgery and she should be able to recover fully, but he wanted to have blood work done to head off any possible problems with the anesthesia and surgery. Because it takes a day to get those results back they will now be doing the surgery tomorrow.

Keep your fingers crossed for Katie. Even if all goes well, she is under house arrest for the next eight weeks. (See a follow-up after two weeks)