Saturday, November 15, 2008

BlogSpot and Sitemeter

Use Sitemeter to watch who is visiting your blog. The tool literally counts visitors to your site and gathers rough demographics. With it, you can usually see how they reached your site and what they used in their search engines; this can help you fine-tune your pages to better serve your readers.

Update: Since this article was originally written, I now am using a product called StatCounter. See this article for an overview -- but this article still explains why you want to track statistics.

I've been experimenting with Google's and have enjoyed publishing articles both in a printed newsletter and here on Blogspot. Yesterday, out of curiosity, I added a SiteMeter ( to the site and yesterday, I received my first report.

Sitemeter reported 8 hits.

Five hits were from locations in Russia, Asia and NewZeland. Equally interesting, they only viewed the two pages I had posted that night. They were probably harvesting email addresses for spam.

Next, a person from Romania was on the site for 40 seconds, reviewing a recent article on hard-disk backup programs. Blogspot showed a new comment was posted at that same time. Here is the message they left, with some of the details obfuscated for obvious reasons:

Anonymous said...
I protect my files and emails with a very easy to use data backup software called xxxxx Backup, the destination is a 500gb WD harddisk, but the company stated that an online feature is under work also. Give it a free trial here. I also got my hands on a 30% discount coupon from them, during the order process enter this coupon code: xxxxx-xxxxx.

What a life-like comment. In that 40 seconds, they recognized the topic of the article, and recognized anonymous comments were allowed and they inserted an appropriately-targeted advertisement. I later learned they hire people to manually read the articles and they insert targeted comments, by hand; this is how they get past the Captcha phrase:

On the good news, the remaining two people, one from California and the other from New York were apparently real users. Each spent 7 minutes, with Sitemeter reporting the following information about the New York visitor: (Click image for a larger sample view; back to return. This illustration is from a user in Saco Maine, USA.)

(His) ISP is ChoiceOne.Net, out of Pittsford, NY and he is running Windows XP, and Mozilla FireFox. I could see he entered my Acronis-Disk-backup article and then glanced at the Disk Cleanup article before leaving.

The "Referring URL" often shows what webpage they are coming from and almost always, this is a Google search. Clicking this link shows exactly what they typed while searching and this gives me a clue on how close my page is to the visitor's search.

FireFox users often turn off the Referring URL, so this information is not always available. But the Maine user had his on and I could tell they used Internet Explorer 6 and in Google's search, the typed: "microsoft office word lost fragments .tmp vanish". Here is the exact page they were in when they found the link to my article.

Periodically, I visit Sitemeter's statistics page and randomly choose visitors to see where they are from and what they are looking for. Based on their searches, several of my articles were modified so the results are more relevant. Often, I have re-arranged the content of the article, making what they are searching easier to find. For example, my article on Vista Network problems and A-cronis vs G-host generate a surprising number of hits. Because of this, I have continued to improve and tune the articles, based on reader searches.

Installing Sitemeter on your blog:

Sitemeter's knowledge base has great instructions, including a video demo, on the exact steps needed to install sitemeter on your site and for this reason, I am not repeating them here. Basically, copy-and-paste a paragraph of Java code into your [blogspot] template design and you are set Direct Link

My compliments to Sitemeter for building such an interesting and yet slightly disturbing tool and compliments to Google for their most excellent blogging tool.

Other Articles you may be interested in:
StatCounter (a competitor)
Vista Spiffs - For performance
Taming Browser Cookies
Stopping the most annoying Vista UAC Nags
Recommended Firefox Add-ons
Vista's Mountain Wallpaper

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Brother HL-1020 Laser

Product Review: Brother HL-1020 Laser Printer: An adequate device with a huge power-bill.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: At home, buy two printers: A black-and-white laser for day-to-day work and yell at the kids when they print in color. Nothing has changed except now, after 10 years, our venerable HP Laser 1100 has mercifully run out of toner.

The 1100 is an attractive and well-engineered device that I've written about before but all mechanical things, especially ones this old, are allowed to have problems. The page-separator pads need replacing (again) and the pickup rollers and fuser are having some issues. I bought the printer used and while I've known it, I've bought three $60 toner cartridges. We got 5 years out of the first cartridge, 3 out of the second... you can see where this is trending. This must have something to do with children. They say it cost about $600,000 to raise a kid; a quarter of that must be ink, toner and paper.

In any case, it was just a few short months ago, in this very space, I whimpered about the inkjet running out of ink and how it seemed cheaper to buy a new printer, which I did. Could I do the same with the laser? It was hard, but I succeeded. After much shopping, I found Staples had a Brother HL-2040 Laser printer, regularly $120, on sale for $80 plus a $20 rebate, bringing the total cost to $60 (by the time you read this, the rebate will be over but the sale price should still around).

I know; it doesn't seem right but I bought a new printer, with toner, for the cost of toner. What a tough spot for a printer manufacturer to be in. They are forced to sell printers at a loss in the hopes of getting your consumable business and the ink is higher than it should be. If any of them tried to raise the price of the printers (and lower the consumables), they'd be out of business in a week because consumers only notice the initial price and everyone else would undercut them in a heart-beat.

To accelerate my next toner purchase, the new printer came with a "Starter" cartridge, which is only 1/2 full. This seems unethical, but it was well advertised and I knew what I was getting into. Until recently, HP used to do this same thing but now I believe they ship full cartridges. But, me, the stupid consumer, willingly perpetuated the fraud. [Update: Since this article was written, I finally had to replace the original toner: I managed 11 months on the original half-size toner. The replacement toner was, as expected, $60.]

The new HL-2040 has a 250-paper-tray (compared to the 50-page-tray on the 1100). It prints at 20 pages per minute (compared to 8), at 600dpi (vs 300 dpi), and has 8MB of Ram (vs 1MB). The printer has both LPT and USB ports. Of course, all newer printers have these specs, but I have to admit this is a nice change.

The new printer is not without problems. First, it is noisier than the HP 1100. The sound isn't horrible but I would call it insistent. Secondly, it uses a *lot* more power. The Brother draws an amazing 450 watts while the HP 1100 drew 170 watts. Other, newer HP models draw 250 watts. At home the printer overloaded the power-strip it was originally plugged into, forcing a move to a new location on the same circuit. Even with this change, when ever I print, the lights flicker and rolling blackouts are seen across the valley. Ideally, the printer would be on a separate circuit from the other equipment in the room but this isn't feasible.

These two issues cloud my opinion of the printer. If I were doing this again, and had the luxury of waiting, I might opt for an HP 1020 printer (which is vaguely comparable to the Brother); but the going price is $180; I've heard it sometimes goes on sale for $120. In both cases, the price is considerably higher than what I paid, making the Brother hard to ignore.

Now, with nearly a year's use on the printer, I can say it performed adequately. I won't claim to be in love with it, mainly because of the power. Literally, the lights flicker in the house when it prints.

Related Keyliner Articles:
Getting more life out of a Brother Toner Cartridge
Brother HL-2170w Printer Review