Friday, May 29, 2009

Google Analytics Blog: Web Analytics Tips & Tricks: Top Ten Myths About Google Analytics

Google Analytics Blog: Web Analytics Tips & Tricks: Top Ten Myths About Google Analytics

Top 10 Myths About Google Analytics - Worth reading

I've been using GA for about 3 months now here on the Canada News Blog and it has definitely paid for itself. OK, I know it's free - but the returns have been very good and worth the time invested in installing it and reviewing all the reports and statistics.

The most amazing example was while I was blogging about the Winnipeg Red River Flood this spring- I was able to see the visits by readers from the affected communities themselves.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rogers Internet Service Hijacks DNS Errors - How to fix the problem

I've been having problems with Rogers Internet services for months, so decided to post the process I have gone through to try and fix this issue. It appeared first with re-directing DNS errors - that is, you type an address into the address bar of your browser incorrectly and you usually end up with a page (from your browser) that says Error 404 - address not found.

[click the image for a good link to a Mozilla - Firefox support knowledge base article titled, " Can't load webpages".]

Or here is what the Internet Explorer page would look like -


What Rogers started to do was to redirect those mistypes to their own page, that looks like a search result, and says something to the effect that that address was not found - did you mean ... and then display a list of sites (a la Google) and ads -for which they earn revenue - especially with click throughs. This is hi-jacking the functions of most browsers (Firefox, IE etc) most of which allow you to simply correct a typing error without leaving the page result. Some have their own search functions or similar redirect add-ons like Google tool bar (with superior search results). Here's what the Roger's redirect page looks like...


Rogers High Speed internet services calls redirecting these normal types of errors "Supported Search Results" - supposedly an added feature of their ISP offerings.
From the Roger's support site -

Supported Search Results is an upgrade designed to improve your online experience. Normally, when you incorrectly enter a keyword search or web page address into the address bar, you see a generic error page which provides no further options or choices. With Supported Search Results, you are presented with helpful search results based on the search criteria entered. Supported Search Results does not require installation. It is a free service designed to enhance your web experience by providing choices when exact matches of your search entries do not exist. Supported Search Results will present a search results page whenever the entry in the address bar is part of a keyword search or a domain name that is: improperly formatted, currently unavailable, non-existent. Instead of seeing a “Page cannot be displayed” error, you will be presented with a page containing links and search results based on your entry in the address bar. There will be no change to your current browsing experience aside from the appearance of the new error page.

"Upgrade, Free service, no change to your browsing experience" - crap! It is still a hijack designed to generate ad and click through revenue for Rogers from simple typos. Of course, after much online negative chatter and complaints last year, Roger's posted and offered an "Opt-out" option. Here's where my connection issues began.

Roger's hijacks the browser function by using their DNS servers [Domain Name Service]. DNS is central to all your browsing - it converts web addresses you type in your browser and other programs into the actual IP address. Basically, you type in google.com for example, that is sent to a DNS server (Rogers for most customers uses automatic assignment of the DNS servers via DHCP) and google.com is converted to 209.85.171.100 (there are more...) and displays the Google website. It was all automatic, as are most ISP's and you didn't have to worry about it - until last July, when Rogers changed the way their DNS server treated the request.

So to opt out, Rogers posted instructions on how to change the DNS settings on your computer. Easy for some, a daunting task for many ordinary users, as it involves changing network settings on your PC or gateway router and using the Windows CMD window (remember DOS?) to ping your PC etc (note -Rogers only posted instructions for their supported router that they call a Home Networking Gateway but is just an SMC router - no instructions for any other brand like Linksys or D-Link etc) or using the Windows Control Panel to change the DNS addresses manually (see below). They end their step by step instructions with the encouraging warning "NOTE: Rogers will provide technical support when the option "Obtain DNS server address automatically" is selected. Other DNS server addresses will not be supported". So your $50 bucks a month gets you zero tech support for connection errors, unless you switch back. So anyway, somewhere in that process where they ask you to insert an alternate Rogers DNS server address eg. 64.71.255.198 - my configuration must have got messed up with different options on the gateway and the PC in the network. The result, increasing "address not found errors" and drastically reduced speeds. I'd have fixed it sooner, but the "no tech support" meant I didn't have the option of just calling my ISP and asking for help.

Thanks to Google and other dissatisfied customers I was able to find several solutions. All the best recommendations involved changing the DNS servers entirely to a non-Rogers IP address. The first I set up after some research was OpenDNS, at www.opendns.com - Their website is clean and simple and their instructions for making the changes are very easy to follow, even for a non-techie. They also have some other useful features, including filtering out undesirable websites - and even blocking the Conficker worm virus. If you're comfortable setting up DNS server addresses yourself, the addresses for the two OpenDNS DNS servers are 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220


Use OpenDNS

(to be continued)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Surveys and polls - do they make a difference?

On Reddit -Politics recently, there was a popular survey purporting to be from the O'Reilly Factor, visit it here.

So do you think surveys and polls make a difference? Vote on the poll to the left. Me, I'm thinking that television programming is pretty much immune to public opinion, democracy or the tyranny of the majority. It's probably more like a natural process where the crud floats to the top.

You could always check out Time.com's Top Ten lists of everything.

Or last week's broadcast ratings:

RANK - PROGRAMS - ORIG - HH RATING - # OF PERSONS

1 AMERICAN IDOL-WEDNESDAY- FOX- 13.7- 23,574,000
2 AMERICAN IDOL-TUESDAY- FOX- 13.4- 23,414,000
3 DANCING WITH THE STARS- ABC- 12.6- 20,278,000
4 MENTALIST, THE- CBS- 10.4- 16,678,000
4 NCIS- CBS- 10.4- 16,723,000
6 GREY'S ANATOMY-THU 9PM ABC- 10.3- 15,546,000
7 DANCING W/STARS RESULTS- ABC- 9.4- 14,556,000
8 CSI -CBS- 9.2- 14,912,000
9 CRIMINAL MINDS- CBS- 8.9- 14,128,000
10 CSI: MIAMI- CBS- 8.7- 13,718,000

Anyway, take the survey on the right - Reddit members wield more clout than the Nielsen ratings, right?

[Category - just for fun]

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Toronto Tamil Protest - latest demonstration calls Tamil Tigers freedom fighters

Chanting "Tamil Tigers - freedom fighters", the latest Tamil protest in Toronto closed down portions of the Gardiner Expressway yesterday, frustrating thousands of weekend motorists and prompting a standoff with police and several arrests of the increasingly unruly Tamil protesters for assaulting police.
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:: cbc.ca photo

This latest protest, dubbed illegal by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, was in response to weekend reports of violent assaults by Sri Lankan troops against rebel Tamil forces in the northern part of that country and the terrible cost in civilian deaths and injuries. The Tamil community in Toronto has responded by staging several large demonstrations in the past weeks. Peaceful and law abiding until recently, the protesters are venting their frustration at what they see as inaction by the international community. Not the first in Ontario to use the closing of busy highways to make a point (such as the coalition of farmers and Ontario truckers), the Tamil community has probably lost much moral support as a result of the disruptions yesterday. I first reported on their denigrating verbal assault on a defenceless homeless woman on University Avenue and the protesters attempts to dislodge her from the small patch of concrete she sleeps on last week. I lost respect for their protests then, even though I support an end to the violence in Sri Lanka.

Many will be similarly opposed to the local Tamil community's support of the Tamil Tigers, offficially known as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and classified as terrorists by the Canadian government. Many in history have called rebels freedom fighters, and to a certain extent the designation is often decided by the winning side in a civil war. But terrorism has an uglier side, and I'm reminded that some in Canada viewed the FLQ - the Front de Liberation du Quebec - as freedom fighters - when in fact they were violent criminals best known for murdering Quebec labour minister Pierre Laporte and stuffing him in the trunk of a car. The FLQ committed more than 200 violent crimes including terrorist bombings resulting in the deaths of innocent civilians.

The international community did not cry out for the U.N or foreign troops to interfere in Canada when the Canadian government imposed the War Measures Act and sent the army into the streets to re-establish order and bring to justice members of the FLQ. We would do well to be instructed by our own history.
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:: [sources - cbc, CP ]

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The distasteful underbelly of the Toronto Tamil protest

Discrimination and hate-speech mar protest

For several weeks the Tamil
- Sri Lankan community in the GTA have been protesting against the conflict in their native Sri Lanka, specifically the Sri Lankan governement's armed forces quest to root out Tamil revolutionary forces, or Tamil Tigers, dubbed terrorists by many nations (including Canada). There has been a great local community outpouring of emotion and demands for official government recognition of the plight of civilians trapped in the war zone. The protests have been well organized and, unitl recently, peaceful. Last week police moved in and made fifteen arrests of Tamil protetsters who refused to peacefully remove themselves from the intersection of University Avenue and Dundas.

Protests in recent weeks had been disruptive, but peaceful and respectful of the general public. One in particular that I had opportunity to witness was the ring around Toronto protest, which snaked protestors in a human chain along Bloor, down Yonge, along Front Street and back up University Avenue past the provincial legislature. The flag waving protestors respectfully waited for cross walks at University and College.

Last week the occupation of University Avenue by Tamil protestors and the blocking of north and southbound traffic lanes, even to emergency vehicles bound for the hospitals lining University was a step over the line. Although police did not move in in force immediately, eventually they had to descend on the protestors who were staging a noisy drum-beating 24 hour vigil in the road in front of the U.S. consulate (which begs the question of the effacacy of Canadians asking the U.S. military to intervene in a south Asian conflict by flag waving in front of a Toronto consulate, rather than the embassy in Ottawa, or why they would feel the Canadian military or the U.N. should not be pressured to respond - Marketing is everything and U.S. consulates are easy targets).

Harassing the homeless: deplorable conduct

One incident, not reported in the news until now, revealed to me the distasteful underbelly of the Tamil protest movement in the GTA and their view of the community they have chosen to live in. I work for Project417 a grassroots charity that helps the homeless out on the streets of Toronto. I'm out there several nights a week with volunteer groups of about ten to fifteen people, meeting with our homeless friends who are absolutely without shelter, sleeping on the streets of Toronto. As we passed the Tamil protest one night recently on University Avenue in front of the Court buildings we were headed to visit one friend, a homeless lady who has been sleeping nearby for several months - right through the depths of the winter.

Unfortunately, her too public sleeping location was very close to where the Tamil protesters had chosen to stage their overnight event. She will not sleep in city shelters - a woman, homeless, with trauma and violence in her past, she is vulnerable and at risk living outside and distrustful of strangers. The noise from the dozens of beating drums chosen by unruly protesters on University was very loud when we found her - we had to shout to speak and we talked about how difficult it was to sleep. Previously the protests had wrapped up about 11 pm, but now they planned to go all night (very admirable of the Tamil community in their perseverance and committment to their cause, but no-one was there to witness their nocturnal disturbance) Except, that is, for our homeless friends on the street.

This night the Tamil protesters went beyond the accepatable noise and chanting. They harassed our friend. The protesters found themselves in a position not many of us encounter - where to lay down and sleep when you're out on the streets all night. Our homeless friend had a good location, sheltered from the elements - there was a light rain that evening. A group of protesters wanted to sleep where she is camped out. After all it is a public place and they would have been welcome to camp out adjacent to her and mind their own business. There are often upwards of half a dozen homeless in that particular spot.

But they didn't leave it at that - groups of them began visiting her, many of them Tamil Canadian youth. They yelled at her, they swore at her. They told her to leave, because they didn't want her sleeping there. They said she was dirty and indecent. They said they didn't want to be near her disease (their faulty asumption, our friend is healthy). They called her a prostitute (whore) and a drug addict, neither of which is the case. Unfortunately, I was supervising several youth volunteers (youth, by the way, who were with me delivering food and friendly smiles to the homeless) and had to leave, so I don't know how the night progressed, but I fear the worst.

Here is an example of a not so desirable, but instructive view of the Tamil protesters. Claiming to be speaking out for fairness and a humanitarian cause - they prove to be blind to the needs of people in their own GTA communty. They are guilty of oppressive behaviour and discriminatory and hateful speech and actions. They are intimately aware (they say) of conditions thousands of miles away in Sri Lanka, but prove to display some of the worst characteristics of the Sri Lankan authorities they oppose in their adopted homeland. I will be back on the street tonight visiting our friend - I will not turn a blind eye to any further attacks on her by misguided protesters.

Mirrored at the MissionLog. To volunteer with project417, visit project417.com
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Friday, May 1, 2009

Red River Flood Watch - Latest Update May 1 - Flooding south of Winnipeg a 2,000 sq km lake

Extensive flooding south of Winnipeg:

The last update here at the Canada News blog was 10 days ago and conditions for our friends in Manitoba have not improved much.

The flooding south of Winnipeg, although it has dropped today by about a foot, is still extensive and looks more like a 2,000 square kilometer lake than the Red River. Communities to the south are still behind ring dikes with homes stranded behind sandbags or small islands of higher ground. According to WFP many in these stranded south Manitoba communities are laying the blame on the City of Winnipeg Floodway, saying that the flood gates are not low enough and that more of the floodwaters should be admitted into the Floodway diversion to ease water levels to the south. The slowly receding waters will make life difficult for residents, hundreds of whom were evacuated with many still getting around in small boats and other water craft.

North of Winnipeg, where several communities declared emergencies due to serious flooding caused by the ice jams, evacuated residents are now returning to survey their flood and ice damaged homes. In the Regional Municipalities of St. Clements and St. Andrews, the Manitoba provincial government has announced it will buy out owners of properties in high-risk areas (like Breezy point) that have suffered flood damage several times in the last few years.

[photo CBC in St. Adolphe]

Evacuated members of three flood-affected Manitoba First Nations are receiving flood clean up kits from the Red Cross for their damaged homes. The Peguis, Fisher River and Roseau River First Nations are returning to their homes after several weeks of being evacu­ated.

Even in Winnipeg itself, though flood concerns are low there is still risk of damage as the city's sewer system is operating at reduced capacity due to higher river levels and runoff. High river levels means a bigger strain on the city sewer system, and heavy rainfall in the forecast the next few days means there's a greater chance of basement flooding. Winnipeggers can get more information at EmergWeb or by calling 311.

Also from Winnipeg, effective Sunday, May 3, 2009 at 6:00 p.m., the Flood Evacuee Reception Centre in Winnipeg, located at the Century Arena, will be closing. The Reception Centre opened on April 15, 2009, for people requiring emergency support services as a result of having to leave their homes due to flooding. To date, the Reception Centre has assisted 273 families, or a total of 724 individuals. Starting Monday, May 4, 2009, evacuees continuing to require emergency assistance will be able to access these services at the River Heights Health and Social Services Centre, 677 Stafford Street at Pembina Highway (located next to Price Choppers). The office will be open Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Project417 volunteers were not asked to head out to Winnipeg to help, the local emergency and disaster crews along with numerous willing volunteers, the Salvation Army and the Red Cross have handled the flood response admirably. What Project417 will do is canvass for individual property owners and homeowners who would benefit from a volunteer team willing to help with re-building, renovation and clean-up for a week or two, perhaps among the First Nations communities. I'll keep you updated here. Right now we're on watch for any increase in the flu pandemic level in the GTA. As a matter of fact we're helping with the National Emergency Preparedness Week (May 3-9) event to be held at Queen's Park in Toronto on Monday at noon and expect to be serving more than 500 attendees a BBQ lunch from the Salvation Army's mobile canteens and community response vehicles ( I'll post some photos Tuesday).

[sources - Winnipeg Free Press , CBC Manitoba , Winnipeg.ca EmergWeb ]
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