The “7-day-long Bing trial”: results

About a week ago, I mentioned that I would be trying out Microsoft’s Bing as my default search engine in my main browser (Firefox 4.0) on my main computer, for at least seven days. So, the week has passed… what are my impressions of Bing, when I had used Google for years?

A Bing search

Continue reading The “7-day-long Bing trial”: results

Bad Comic Panels #7: “I’m the Goddamn Batman!”

What, are you dense? Are you retarded or something? Who the hell do you think I am? I'm the goddamn Batman.
Source: All Star Batman and Robin #2, 2005

Another infamous one, by Frank Miller, and much parodied on the Internet. Much like the Tarot example, I’m posting it just so that, when this blog has thousands of readers a day ((any day now)), I’m not inundated with emails and comments asking me if I don’t know about this one ((OK, and also because I didn’t want to do “crude anti-Communism” twice in a row)). I’m not going to write much about it, instead referring you to an article titled All Suck Batman and Robin, which talks about this comic in detail.

In fact, ASBAR has a lot in common with Tarot: great art, professionally done, but the plot is absolutely crazy. In this case, it’s kind of worse, though: Frank Miller used to be a brilliant writer, with a long run on Daredevil that defines the character to this day, and other works of art such as Daredevil: Born Again, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Ronin, Batman: Year One, and Sin City, especially the early ones. Today, however, not only does he seem to be the laziest writer in existence, with delays of 6 months or more between issues, and several projects announced years ago that still haven’t seen the light of day, but his writing seems almost to be a parody of himself and the “grim and gritty” style he was so influential in some 30 years ago, with lots of repetition (“Dick Grayson: Age 12”), and mostly unheroic, unappealing, psychotic characters — even the ones supposed to be the heroes. Just read the dialog above… or look at the link I provided for more details of just how insane ASBAR is.

AWStats + MRTG search engine referrals script updated

Just a brief note: I’ve just updated my script for graphing referrals from Google, Bing and Yahoo!. I intended it to reset each first day of a month, so one can see whether each month is “better” than the one before… however, it didn’t handle stats without any referrals at all from those search engines, which is likely to happen every time the current month changes. It’s fixed now.

Bad Comic Panels #6: General Fang two-in-one

I could have stretched this one into two separate posts, but since they would both concern the very same character (again, much like Karl Kort, never seen again after this story, sadly), and are from the same story, I chose to do a “two-in-one” with the best / worst two panels featuring this fascinating “yellow peril” villain, General Fang, featured in The Incredible Hulk #5, from 1962.

The first is after the Hulk, disguised as the Abominable Snowman (don’t ask), had destroyed a few of Fang’s tanks and weapons. Naturally, his men are worried:

General Fang: "He dared to advise ME! To the FIRING SQUAD with him!"
Most leaders, even actual dictators, typically have advisors. But not Fang. Nosiree. He is far above that.

But Fang, reminding me of a couple of bosses I had in the past, knows how to deal with those pesky outside contributions. I bet the other guy, the one with the simian look and the ridiculous huge bowl with a star, will not ever think, in the future, of offering the slightest suggestion to his most glorious general!

The next panel comes a bit later in the story, after Fang has ordered the launch of his missiles into the peaceful neighboring country of “Llhasa”, which is of course not meant to be Tibet (whose real-life capital is “Lhasa”, with just one “L”), perish the thought.

General Fang: "It's time for the hordes of General Fang to strike terror to those who were foolish enough to survive my missile attack!"
Would YOU be foolish enough to survive his missile attack? Come on, spit it out. Would you?

As the caption in the panel says, the Hulk stops the missiles, but Fang doesn’t know that yet, and so he orders his cavalry (just the right choice for attacking snow-covered mountains, I guess) to attack, and to “strike terror to those who were foolish enough to survive (his) missile attack“.

Because, when General Fang attacks your country, to even survive is but mere foolishness. Makes sense. πŸ™‚ I must use this phrase more often…

The Hobbit (ZX Spectrum, 1982), and how a kid became a geek

Note: this post is expanded from one in my old blog, The Games of My Life.

Back in time, to a 1982 game I played in 1983, on my first computer (well, technically my father’s), a 48K ZX Spectrum: Melbourne House’s The Hobbit.

The Hobbit -- starting location
The Hobbit -- starting location

This game… well, it has a story, and I’m not talking about the “Bilbo, Gandalf and a bunch of dwarves go on a quest to retrieve a dragon’s treasure” one. I mean a personal story. I guess I could say that this game changed my life — as much as anything can change one’s life, I guess.

So you’ll have to bear with me — or, of course, skip this post. Because this one is as much about “why I’m the way I am” as it is about the game — perhaps more. And it’s a long one. πŸ™‚ More after the break…

Continue reading The Hobbit (ZX Spectrum, 1982), and how a kid became a geek

Bad Comic Panels #5: “You have to get out of here! Your vagina is haunted!”

You have to get out of here! Your vagina is haunted!
Source: Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #53, 2008

No, I won’t go into detail about this panel, or the… story… behind that infamous phrase. For that, I refer you to an article titled, quite informatively, The Stark, Existential Horror of Tarot #53. Mostly safe for work, but you’ll probably wish to take a shower after reading it… and it’s not the blog author’s fault, believe me.

As to the comic itself, Tarot is a pile of contradictions. The stories themselves are a mix of “so bad it’s good” and “so bad it’s bad“, but, on the other hand, the comic is done very professionally, usually with great art, coloring and all that, and the author (Jim Balent) is clearly having fun with it and just doing what he wants (and he can do that, since he owns the publishing company). I also suspect that Balent isn’t above making fun of himself from time to time — there’s no way ((we can only hope)) that he wrote the panel above for drama. πŸ™‚

The comic currently has more than 60 issues published, and it’s still going, so I guess it sells… though I bet that virtually no one buys it for the plots; it’s probably a mixture of enjoying the “so bad it’s good-ness” and, well, the beautiful naked women ((no, there isn’t a black rectangle in the actual comic. I’m trying to keep this a relatively “family-friendly” blog, at least for the moment.)).

Anyway, this one is relatively well known, but I had to include it in the Bad Comic Panels series; otherwise, when this blog becomes insanely popular ((any day now)), people would then ask me about it all the time. πŸ™‚

Bad Comic Panels #4: “a pretty young lady can always be of help — just by keeping the men’s morale up!”

"A pretty young lady can ALWAYS be of help -- just by keeping the men's MORALE up!
Source: Fantastic Four #12 (1963)

Yes, if your sense of humor is anything near mine, you may be grinning already, after reading the dialog above. πŸ™‚ But, for the full effect, this entry in the Bad Comic Panels series requires a little more background.

So, Fantastic Four #12, which we’ve already seen before, was, I believe, Marvel’s first “crossover” ever; until then, all of its characters stayed in their books. The Hulk (whose identity wasn’t publicly known at the time) was being suspected of sabotaging some missile installations in a military base, and the FF were asked to help capture him. After a page where the three male members of the Fantastic Four boast, very childishly (yes, even Reed Richards) about how each of them will use his own powers to capture the Hulk, the Invisible Girl, Sue Storm (she hadn’t married Reed yet), says that she probably won’t be of much help (this was before she developed her force field / turn other stuff invisible powers; at the time, her only power was to turn herself invisible, nothing more), and General Ross, without realizing how his words could be interpreted in a later, more cynical age, implies that that’s not a problem, as:

… a pretty young lady can always be of help — just by keeping the men’s morale up!

“Morale”? That’s what they called it those days? πŸ˜€

Of course, arguably the best part is yet to come, as Reed — Sue’s boyfriend, and eventual husband — agrees with Ross:

That’s just the way we feel about Sue, general!

In other words, agreeing that her girlfriend — and, by extension, all women — aren’t much good for anything… but that’s OK, because the only thing they need to do is look good. Ah, early Marvel comics. πŸ™‚

AWStats tip: removing ‘chromebar’ from search keyphrases

Being still less than a month old, it’s normal that I keep looking at this blog‘s stats quite often, and one of the most interesting bits — especially if you care about SEO — is the top search keyphrases list. I use both AWStats and Google Analytics for this site, and, concerning the former, I had been curious for a while about why the top search leading people to my blog was apparently for “chromebar“.

Now, I’m pretty sure I had never mentioned that term on this blog, so I thought AWStats might have been doing something wrong. A quick grep on my logs, and where “chromebar” came from became obvious: it’s from the StumbleUpon add-on for Google Chrome. The whole combination was necessary; StumbleUpon users with other browsers weren’t triggering anything like this.

Now, here’s what the “referrer” part of a hit from StumbleUpon, using Chrome with the SU add-on, looks like:

"http://www.stumbleupon.com/toolbar/litebar.php?device=chromebar&version=chromebar%202.9.8.1&ts=1301274701"

While a hit’s referrer from SU with another browser looks like this:

"http://www.stumbleupon.com/refer.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwinterdrake.com%2Fbad-comic-panels-3-its-a-membership-card-in-a-subversive-communist-front-organization%2F"

See the difference? The Chrome version has a query string: ?device=chromebar&version=chromebar%202.9.8.1&ts=1301274701 , while the other one doesn’t. And “chromebar” appears at the beginning of that query string.

Now, StumbleUpon is listed as a “search engine” in AWStats, in a file called lib/search_engines.pm , and that file optionally specifies which part of a query string (e.g. “q=“) from the referrer is the actual search. For some search engines, however, no such part is specified — meaning that they don’t provide it in the “referrer” part of the hit. Such is the case with StumbleUpon, where the query string part is an empty string.

But there seems to be a bug (or maybe it’s an intended feature?) in AWStats here: if no part of a query string is specified, and yet there is a query string, AWStats seems to use the first part it catches. As you can see above, that was ?device= , and it was always set to chromebar.

The easiest way around this problem (I don’t know if the AWStats authors will consider this a bug or not; I’ll try to report the problem in the near future) is to edit lib/search_engines.pm and add a non-existing query string part to StumbleUpon. Open that file with a text editor and look for this line:

'stumbleupon','',

and change it to:

'stumbleupon','qwerty=',

Presto! No more “chromebar” entries in your stats in the future. (It won’t delete current entries, though, unless you clear your AWStats cache files for that month and generate new stats.)

Bad Comic Panels #3: “It’s a membership card in a subversive Communist-front organization!”

It's a membership card in a subversive Communist-front organization! That means -- Karl Kort must be -- A RED!
Source: Fantastic Four #12, 1963

Comics, like all forms of art, are a product of their times. In the early 60s, American mentality was still mostly based on the 50s, with their sexism ((and there’s an even better one in this very issue, but I didn’t want to go after the same theme twice in a row, so you’ll have to wait for a future installment of Bad Comic Panels.)), and a huge dose of paranoia, especially in relation to Communism and the Soviet Union. At those times, many people really thought that a Soviet invasion was imminent, and that America was already full of Communist spies and sympathizers. If you read the first year of, say, Iron Man, the Avengers, or the Hulk, you’ll find a lot of “red menace” stories, with “commie” villains so obviously evil that, in a way, it negates the paranoia — there would be no fear of Communist spies if they were so easy to spot. πŸ™‚

The example above is one I always found funny, ever since I read it a couple of decades ago. Obviously, Rick Jones’ dialog is great (“That means — Karl Kort must be — A RED!”), but there’s also that other little morsel: that a Communist spy kept his membership card in his wallet! πŸ˜› Rick’s description of the organization Kort belongs to is also unintentionally humorous, and I have always found it funny to imagine that the card itself read something like:

(hammer and sickle)  RED MENACEΒ  (hammer and sickle)
Subversive Communist-front Organization
Member name: Karl Kort

After all, “subversive” and “Communist-front” weren’t terms that the average teenager was likely to use, were they? So, maybe Rick was in fact reading from the card! πŸ™‚ Anyway, sadly, this colorful and interesting villain, filled with intelligent and original motivations, didn’t ever appear again. Who knows what interesting, innovative stories featuring Karl Kort, and the organization he was a member of, could have been written…

More on Google vs. Bing, and the “7-day-long Bing trial”

After my last couple of posts looking at the comparative hits between Google and Bing and investigating the reasons for the huge discrepancy (Bing bringing me a puny 2-3% of Google’s hits), I’m still curious about this subject. So far, it appears that Bing brings me 2-3% of what Google brings because it has 2-3% of the users Google has… which seems too low a number to me. Yes, “google” as a verb has entered everyday language (“I’ve just googled for it”), and it’s the default browser on most non-Microsoft browsers (though I’ve heard that a couple of them changed their defaults to Bing recently), but, well, Internet Explorer is still widely used (unfortunately), and it certainly defaults to Bing.

Further investigation may be in order, but, unless both companies reveal their search volume, there’s no way to know with certainty. We can look at other statistics such as Alexa, which are certainly far from definitive, and which lists google.com as #1 worldwide (and remember that there are many other “international” Googles), and Bing as #20 worldwide (#14 in the US). Google (again, just the “.com” version) is listed as having a “reach” of 49.05000, while Bing supposedly has a “reach” of 4.77600. This puts Bing as 9% of Google, but if you add in the international Googles, the 2-3% actually sound like a plausible result.

Still, all of this, and we haven’t actually asked an important question: how good actually is Bing, for users? Are people — even Internet Explorer users — using Google out of habit / popularity, or is Bing in fact a worse search engine — say, providing worse, less relevant search results, giving you exactly what you want at the #1 position less often, or not even finding something that exists when Google does? Only one way to find out: my 7-day-long Bing trial. (Actually, 8-day-long, since I started it yesterday, but I think that ending on a Saturday is nicer than on a Friday).

Until April 2, I’m going to be using Bing as the default search engine on my main browser (Firefox 4), and I’ll post my impressions after that time. If you’re interested in SEO, or simply curious, I’d suggest you try the same — learning is always good, isn’t it? πŸ™‚ To do it in Firefox:

  • for the search engine box (typically on the right), it’s easy: just click on the little “down arrow” in the box, and choose Bing.
  • for the URL box (typically on the left), go to about:config, accept the so-called “risk” if it’s your first time doing so, search for keyword.URL, and change it to “http://www.bing.com/results.aspx?q=“, without the quotes. Yes, it ends with an equal sign. To switch back to Google, change it to
    http://www.google.com/search?ie=UTF-8&oe=utf-8&q=“. I believe this is unchanged if you’re using Firefox 3.x instead of 4 (though you really ought to upgrade, Firefox 4 is great).