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Huw waits for his blogging muse to descend...

April 2005

This month Huw experiences mindless violence and a London call girl while searching for inspiration for the ultimate Blog!


To my Lord’s in the morning, where I met with Captain Cuttance , but my Lord not being up I went out to Charing Cross , to see Major-General Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition. He was presently cut down, and his head and heart shown to the people, at which there was great shouts of joy.”

Ah, how I would love to be able to write a weblog filled with episodes like that! The entry above was written by that greatest of bloggers, Samuel Pepys. I am not being entirely flippant when I describe Pepys as a blogger. There really is a Samuel Pepys weblog. You can find it here: www.pepysdiary.com. You’ll find the entry quoted above here.

Still good after all these years….

From Cats to Call Girls

I have been much concerned by weblogs of late having begun no less than four of my own. This may, I concede, seem a little ambitious. I mean, I would be the first to admit that my daily life is not so filled with incident that I am unable to fit an account of its events into one blog at a time. All the same, I decided to start three blogs in order to test out competing blog providers. The fourth blog came about almost by chance. More on that shortly.

Until recently, I had paid scant attention to blogging. This is possibly because I never have been a keen diarist. I did once try to keep a diary but the daily entries rarely got much more exciting than: “Monday, 10:30, dentist” or “Thursday, 3:30, cat to vet.” Important as these events may have seemed to me personally, I rather doubt whether they would have millions of Internet users logged on with baited breath, eager to read what happens next.

In fact, it’s surprising just how many blogs seem to be filled with incidents of pretty much the dentist, cat and vet variety. There are some notable exceptions. Belle de Jour – the Diary of a London Call Girl is one of the most notable of the notables (by the way, don’t click that link if you are easily shocked. At any rate, if you do click it and are shocked, don’t blame me!). Purporting to document the daily life of the eponymous Ms de Jour, this blog has appeared online for the past couple of years and has now become a bestseller in book form.

Fame, fortune and book deals are, of course the dream of many bloggers. But few indeed will ever achieve the success of the loquacious Belle. This is no doubt due in part to the fact that Belle simply has a more interesting occupation than most of us. Assuming, that is, that what she writes is the plain unvarnished truth. Belle, one senses, is occasionally prone to exaggeration. Indeed, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that she may actually tell some pretty juicy fibs from time to time.

There are some suspicious souls who even doubt whether Ms de Jour really is the call girl she claims to be. Indeed, it has been rumoured that she may not be a girl at all. For all you know, she could be me. Only I know that she isn’t. For all I know, she could be you. But since I have no idea who you are, this is an untestable hypothesis.

Speculation on the identity of Belle de Jour has recently even spread as far as the august pages of the Sunday Times. The newspaper claims that “The evidence points to Belle being largely the work of Lisa Hilton, a British author based in America, who has written about her own steamy sex life in the past.” Clues to her identity can be found in a new blog called “Belle de Hypothesis - Fictional Account Of A London Publishing Scam”. Personally, I’m not convinced. I shall shortly be launching a new blog in which I shall be presenting new evidence which points to the real-life Belle being none other than the very lovely Elton John.

Blog Jam

But I fear I am straying from the subject. I seem to recall that I had planned to devote this month’s Rant to the subject of blogs and how to get one – or, as I said, in my own case, four. There are numerous blog providers in the world. Some provide software that you have to install on your own web space, others provide web space but charge you for the privilege. A few provide both the software and the web space and don’t charge at all. It goes without saying that this is the category of blog which attracted me.

This is my Blogger blog: : http://huwsrant.blogspot.com

This is my MyBlogSite blog: http://rants.myblogsite.com

And finally, my ModBlog blog: http://rantsandraves.modblog.com

I decided to try out three free blogs: Blogger, MyBlogSite and ModBlog. Of these Blogger is probably the best know, not least due to the fact that it is owned by the world’s favourite search engine, Google. To get a Blogger blog you just sign up for a free account at www.blogger.com. Then you choose a name for your blog and pick a template to define the appearance of each page. Unfortunately, there are now so many Blogger blogs that finding a spare name is quite tricky. For example, when I created my Rants and Raves blog I found that the names ‘rantsandraves’, ‘rants’, ‘randr’ and even ‘huwsrants’ (in the plural) had already been taken. In the end, I opted for ‘huwsrant’ in the singular. Blogger blogs are hosted in the Blogspot domain so the address to my blog is: http://huwsrant.blogspot.com.

On the whole I like the Blogger system. It is easy to post new entries. You just add the text into an editing window and use shortcuts such as Ctrl+B and Ctrl+I to format selected text in Bold or Italics. There is also an HTML editing mode if you prefer to mess around with the formatting code. Unfortunately it isn’t so easy to edit the page template. If you want to make adjustments to the appearance of your pages you have to mess around with raw HTML code using a very, very basic text editor. Not for the faint of heart!

Blogger provides syndication (the ability for readers to ‘subscribe’ to your blog and receive notification when new entries are added) in a format known as Atom. It does not currently provide the more popular RSS syndication format – though, in fact, many RSS Reader programs support Atom too, so this is not a major problem.

To format your Blogger pages you will need to delve into the underlying code!

At least the Blogger post editor is user-friendly.

Getting pictures hosted for display in your Blog is a complicated business on Blogger. First you have to download Google’s free picture management software, Picasa (www.picasa.com), then you have to download a Blogger add-on for Picasa called Hello (www.hello.com). You can then use Hello to select and resize pictures from your hard disk and upload them to your blog. This is all very slick once you have the software installed. However, there are much easier ways of uploading graphics and one is led to wonder why Google insists upon this rather complicated method. I suspect that it is aimed at getting people to install Picasa whether they want to or not - though I haven’t yet figured out what’s in it for Google. No doubt all will become clear in time…

A Site For Sore Eyes

Meanwhile, I also tried out another blog host called MyBlogSite (www.myblogsite.com). This is another completely free blog provider which uses the same Blogware system (home.blogware.com) used by some pay-to-blog providers. There is much that I like about MyBlogSite. In particular, it is quite easy to adapt the design of your blog pages without having to do any hands on HTML coding. As with Blogger, you start out by picking a ready-to-use page template. Once you’ve done that you can add and delete elements from the pages simply by dragging and dropping pre-designed components such as an RSS link, a calendar, favourite links and so on. But this isn’t exactly a WYSIWYG editor. What you see when dragging categories around is just a collection of labelled boxes. You won’t see what you’ll get on your finished page until you’ve saved your completed design. While this isn’t as user friendly as it could be, it’s a damn’ sight friendlier than Blogger!

The MyBlogSite page layout is edited by dragging and dropping elements onto 'page diagram'

MyBlogSite has a good editor for formatting your posts

MyBlogSite has a good text editor for posting blog entries with even more formatting options than Blogger. There are icons to set text in bold, italic and underline, to align text to the left, centre or right and even to change the colour and font. You can also upload pictures direct from your hard disk and add either them to the post you are currently editing or to a separate ‘photo album’. You can put the photo album on a separate element on the page of your blog if you want to give people the option of looking at a ‘standalone’ collection of photos. Uploading, resizing and adding images to your blog is much simpler procedure with MyBlogSite than with Blogger and you don’t need to install any additional software. Another good thing about MyBlogSite is its statistics. These give you a detailed breakdown of the number of page views by hour, day or month and the most popular articles in your blog. My MyBlogSite blog can be found at: http://rants.myblogsite.com.

Getting Fancy

The last of the three blogs systems I’ve been trying is ModBlog (www.modblog.com). If you like fancy page designs, ModBlog will be right up your street. Many of the standard templates are more highly designed and graphical than those provided by Blogger or MyBlogSite and you can create or modify templates to your own taste. In fact there are three alternative ways of editing ModBlog templates, none of which, however, is particularly easy. While it certainly is possible to customise the appearance of your blog to a considerable extent, you will need a good knowledge of HTML. Nerves of steel would be an added advantage.

Once again, editing the ModBlog page layout requires a knowledge of HTML

The ModBlog editor is the least friendly of the three I tried

In common with MyBlogSite, ModBlog provides comprehensive statistics on the pages that have been viewed by visitors. It even shows the names of sites on which visitors clicked links to your blog. The post editor is a bit hard going as it doesn’t have icons and keyboard shortcuts to apply text formatting. You can add some formatting effects by enclosing text between HTML tags but when this option is selected any web site addresses in your post do not automatically have hotlinks to the specified address. Curiously, web address linking becomes active when HTML code formatting is disabled.

There is a very large range of ‘added extras’ available on ModBlog. In addition to an image gallery (once again, uploading images is straightforward), you can also add a ‘chatterbox’ area in which visitors can natter among themselves, plus polls for people to vote on specific subjects, a calendar, an RSS feed and even a forum where people can discuss topics at greater length. Incidentally, ModBlog is the only blog which had my preferred blog name, ‘rantsandraves’ available. Visit the blog at: http://rantsandraves.modblog.com.

Decisions, decisions…

Well, having tried out three free blogs, the time eventually came to decide on one of them to use as the default blog to complement this column. It wasn’t an easy decision. All three blog systems have their own particular strengths. ModBlog, for example, is hugely customisable and has a great many added extras. I found it hard to get to grips with the layout designers, however, and its post editor is about as friendly as a cornered rat. Even so, it lets you create some striking looking designs and would be a good choice if you want to encourage a high degree of interaction with your blog’s visitors.

MyBlogSite also has quite a few added extras and makes lighter work of designing your page layouts. Its post editor is easy to use and it provides a good range of statistics on page views. If you want a fast, easy-to-use Blog and don’t plan on customising every last element of your page design, MyBlogSite is hard to beat.

On the face of it, Blogger is most notable for what it lacks. It hasn’t got all the added extras of ModBlog, it hasn’t got the simple layout manager provided by MyBlogSite, it doesn’t support RSS feeds directly (though its alternative Atom format feed provides similar functionality), it hasn’t got built-in image uploading (though the additional Picasa and Hello software fill this gap), and it lacks detailed statistics.

Even so, in the end I decided to put the Rants and Raves Blog on Blogger. I decided against ModBlog because I don’t care for its layout manager and post editor. But it was a pretty close run thing between Blogger and MyBlogSite. I opted for Blogger for the simple reason that it’s part of the Google network. Google is expanding dramatically and I anticipate that its blog service will expand accordingly. Already there is a popup BlogThis tool built into the Google Toolbar (a free web browser add-in). Blogger is also expanding into the world of audioblogging to let you add audio entries to your blog over the phone. Unfortunately, this service is only available in the USA at the time of writing. I live in the UK so that’s no good to me. Still, Blogger says audioblogging is coming soon to the rest of the world. Apart from the backing of Google, I would probably have opted for MyBlogSite. Indeed, I may yet do so. After all, there’s no rule against keeping more than one blog.

Hmmmm… now what kind of blog is likely to be the next international sensation, I ask myself? I don’t know, but somehow ‘Diary of a middle-aged Welsh Computer Journalist’ doesn’t have ‘best-seller’ written all over it. Maybe I need to use a little more artistic licence. How about ‘Diary of a Betws y Coed Rent Boy’?

By George! That’s it! Interested publishers can fight over the novelisation rights at my usual email address. Incidentally, when they make the film, I’d like to be played by Brad Pitt….

And finally

I almost forgot. At the start of this month’s Rant I mentioned that I have four blogs but thus far I have mentioned but three of them. The fourth one is called ‘Stuck In The ‘80s’ and it came about as a result of a complex set of events which I shall simplify thus: 1) Back in the 1980s, I used to interview pop stars for a living, 2) A couple of years ago I decided to reprint some of my old interviews on my web site www.darkneon.com, 3) As a result of which I was contacted by the owner of the Internet music station, all80sradio.com, 4) who asked me to record some reports ‘live from the ‘80s’ to be broadcast on the station, 5) which gave me the idea of writing a weblog ‘live from the ‘80s too’. And that, dear reader, is what this blog is. Log on to Stuck In The ‘80s at http://stuckinthe80s.blogspot.com.

Copyright © 2009 Dark Neon Ltd. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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