Broken Link Contest

Help me clean up this mess — and maybe win a prize.

I’ve been building content on this site since 2003. In eight years, I’ve collected a lot of junk.

Broken Link ImageAs I revise this site, I’m going through every single post, deleting the ones I don’t think are relevant anymore, and fixing up the ones that remain. Along the way, I hope to hunt down and destroy all broken links.

But I’m only one person and can only check so many links in a day. So I’m asking for your help. And I’m willing to reward the folks who help me most with a free copy of any one of my books still in print.

Here’s how you can enter to win:

  1. Browse the site as you normally would.
  2. When you find a broken link*, open the comment for this post. (I put a link to it in the sidebar so it’s easy to find.)
  3. Check all the preceding comments to make sure your broken link isn’t already listed. I can’t give points for duplicate entries!

  4. If the broken link isn’t already listed, use the Comments form at the bottom of the page to enter the following information:
    • Your name and email address. (This might not be necessary if you’ve already commented here.) Please use your real email address; I will use it to contact you if you’re a winner. I will not share your address with anyone else or spam you. I promise.
    • The URL of the page where you found the broken link. It must begin with http://www.mariaguides.com/ — I’m not interested in rewarding folks for finding broken links on other sites.
    • The URL of the broken link. The easiest way to get this information is to either Control-Click (Mac OS) or Right-Click (Mac OS or Windows) on the broken link and use the Copy Link Location command in the contextual menu that appears. You can then paste it into the comment form.
  5. Submit the comment.
  6. Repeat as necessary. The more broken links you report, the better your chances of winning.

When I approve the comments — all comments are moderated here — I’ll check your findings. If you’ve correctly identified a broken link, you’ll score a point and I’ll note that in a reply to your comment.

At November month-end, I’ll award prizes to the top broken link finders.

Does this sound like a plan? I hope so. l could really use the help.


* A “broken link” is a link on a Web page that, when clicked, displays a “Page Not Found” error or something similar. In other words, it doesn’t display what it should for whatever reason.

Category Feeds Being Removed

As part of the site revision process, I’ve decided to do away with the category-specific feeds. These feeds, which cover Excel, Mac OS, Word, and WordPress content, are being utilized by less than 100 people. If you’re reading this message in your feed reader, YOU might be one of them.

Within a month or so, these feeds will simply not work. Delete them from your reader.

If you want to continue receiving content from this site via RSS, please subscribe to the main feed, using one of the following URLs:

Major Site Update Planned

I am embarrassed about this mess and will start fixing it today.

It boggles my mind how bad I’ve let this site become. Cluttered, tiny print, bad links, missing files, out-of-date content. And what’s with the missing spaces after certain punctuation? I typed them there — why don’t they appear?

Why do you let me get away with this?

Well, help is on the way. I begin reconstructive surgery on this site this afternoon. Not only will I be changing it’s entire look and interface, but I’ll be removing a lot of very old material and all the bad links that frustrate visitors to no end.

I expect the changes to take about a week to finish, so hang on and bear with me. Feedback is always welcome; you can add your comments to this post and get a discussion going. Be sure to tell me what you do and don’t like as things progress. And, if you have any wish lists for the site, now is the time to speak up.

Ready? Let’s get to it then!

October 26, 2011 Update:
I’ve finally started work on the changes. So far, I’ve changed the site’s overall design, removed a bunch of outdated content, and reorganized topics. I’ve also restructured the menu system at the top of the page. More changes coming. Bear with me as I continue working on this.

October 27, 2011 Update:
I’ll be spending most of today going through the 400+ posts uploaded here since 2003, weeding out the old junk no one cares about, and recategorizing and tagging what remains. Can you say tedious? But I think it’s worth it to have good, easy-to-find content here.

October 30, 2011 Update:
I finally finished going through all the posts on this site. I removed more than 100 out-of-date or uninteresting posts, leaving behind a total of 317 for your reading pleasure. All posts have been properly categorized and tagged. I also fine-tuned the layout, increasing the font size of the sidebar so people like me could read it. (Getting old sucks.) Next up, I’ll convert pages to posts and fit them into the hierarchy. I’ll also re-add the information about my work and contact form. Would love to get some feedback about the site changes so far. Comments, anyone?

.htaccess Modifications Boost My FeedBurner Numbers

The fruits of my labor.

Yesterday, I spent a good part of the day updating my site’s .htaccess file to redirect requests for my WordPress-generated feeds to my corresponding FeedBurner feeds. This included the main feed for my site as well as individual category feeds for my Book Support categories.

I discussed why I wanted to do this in a previous article, “The Definitive Guide to Apache mod_rewrite,” which includes a quick book review of the book I found extremely helpful to complete this daunting (for me, at least) task.

The resulting .htaccess file included a few RewriteCond and RewriteRule statements to point most feed requests to my FeedBurner feeds. I say “most” because, for some reason, I couldn’t get one of the RewriteRule statements to work.

Having trouble understanding what the heck I’m talking about? Here’s a way to look at the situation:

Think of all of the incoming feed requests as a flow of water coming into my site. I don’t want that water in my site — I want it at FeedBurner’s site so I can measure it and ensure consistent outflow. My RewriteRule and Redirect statements are like pipelines, each of which gathers a specific flow of water and delivers it to FeedBurner. I need one more pipe to capture the last trickle of water coming into my site. I think I have the right pipe, but the water’s not flowing into it.

(Sometimes I really do get carried away with analogies.)

Anyway, this morning I checked my Feedburner subscriber numbers. After all, if I started sending FeedBurner more of my requests, there should be more subscribers, right? The result had me pleasantly surprised: I had about twice as many subscribers today as yesterday for my main feed. It’ll be interesting to see what tomorrow’s number looks like.

I also made some changes to the category feed links (those tiny orange icons in a post’s header) so they’re redirected to the corresponding Feedburner feeds. Of course, this was only for my Book Support category topics. I don’t have a FeedBurner feed for every category on my site, so I couldn’t redirect them all.

What’s the benefit of a FeedBurner feed? Two obvious things that I can see:

  • Feedburner can track the number of subscribers to a feed, so you can instantly and easily see how popular a feed is. It also provides a bunch of other stats to help you understand what subscribers are interested in.
  • Feedburner’s BrowserFriendly feature takes ugly feed code and turns it into a Web page. So if someone clicks a feed link, they get something they can actually read in their browser. Best of all, there are buttons near the top of the page that make it easy to subscribe with a bunch of different popular feed readers. This is a great feature to convert newbies into subscribers.

I’m not completely done messing around with .htaccess on my site, but I’m taking a break from it. Sometimes when I hit a block, the best thing to do is walk away for a while and come back to it. I’ll get that last pipe working — but not today.

Anyone interested in seeing the .htaccess commands I used? Use the Comments link to let me know and I’ll put them online in another post.

WordPress Category Feeds

Did you read the article?

If you’re a subscriber or frequent visitor here, you may have caught my how-to article about including category feed links for each post’s category. You can see how this looks on every post on my site — at the top of the post is the category name with a tiny feed icon before it. Clicking the feed icon opens the RSS feed page for that category. You can copy the link and paste it into your feed reader to subscribe to the category.

I wrote the article right after I made this modification to my site. It seemed like a good WordPress trick to share with readers, so I put it online. At least 130 people read it on my site. But then I got to thinking about it and realized that I might have a good paying market for the article. I submitted it to my editor at Informit and they bought it. So I had to take it offline.

Fear not! Informit.com is a free source of articles on the Web. So when it gets through editing and into production, it’ll be back online there and I’ll have a link to it on this site. Unfortunately, that’ll take at least a month. I’m not their only writer and there’s plenty of other content for them to get online. I’m still waiting for four articles I’ve written for them in the past month to appear online — three of them are of special interest to WordPress users.

But I thought I’d take a few moments to explain why I went through the bother of creating category feed links here. Read on to see if this technique works for you.

Why Category Feeds?

Without repeating too much of what’s in my Informit article, here’s the deal.

Everything I’ve read about successful blogging says that a blog must have a specific topic to succeed. If you visit my Web site or subscribe to my primary RSS feed, you know that I’m just not following that rule. My site/blog covers all kinds of topics: computing for Mac users, computing for Windows users, flying, writing, photography, stuff going on in my life, travel, blogging, productivity, and so on. It’s a hodgepodge of information and opinion and I seriously doubt whether everything I write about is of interest to anyone.

While I could start multiple blogs, each of which covers a specific topic, I’ve been there and done that and I didn’t like it one darn bit. Too much work to do, especially when it’s time to upgrade!

Fortunately certain topics are of interest to a lot of different people. One person might like what I write about WordPress while another might like what I write about flying. Neither of them care a bit about the other topic. They don’t want to subscribe to my main feed to get the tidbits that interest them. They might not even want to visit the site regularly to see what’s new and interesting for them. They stop by once or twice, read things they like, see things they don’t care about, and forget to come back.

I want to capture those visitors and keep them coming back for more. I figure that the best way to do that is to offer RSS feeds (also viewable as “Live Bookmarks” in Firefox — my browser of choice — and possibly other browsers) for every topic on the site. This way, people who want to follow certain topics I write about can do it without having to wade through the stuff they couldn’t care less about.

How WordPress Makes this Easy

WordPress makes it easy to publish category feeds — it does it automatically. All a reader has to do is know the URL for the automatically generated category feed. And all I’ve done is give it to them on a platter, by creating a link with the feed URL beside the category name in a post header.

My article goes into the how-to aspect of this in some detail, with the code I used to make it happen. Copyright agreements prevent me from repeating that code, which is the main content of the article, here. (Sorry, but I do write for a living, which means I need to get paid for my work sometimes.)

I did write an article some time ago that explained how to create an RSS feed page like the one on my site: “How to Create a WordPress RSS Feed Page.” As that article explains, you can use the wp_list_cats tag to include your RSS feed link for a category in parentheses after the category name. That’s handy on an RSS feed page like the one I wrote about, as well as in sidebar listings of categories. For most folks, that’ll be enough.

I used a more “in your face” approach. I just hope it works.

Thoughts on the topic of category feeds? Use the Comment link to share them with other readers.