Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mail Batch Settings for PHPList

If you use the free PHPList for mailing to a large mailing list, you may want to know how to handle batch sizes so you don't overload the mail server.

My host and mail server is Lunarpages, whom I highly recommend for the incredible service they provide and the extremely low price for web hosting ($6.95/month!).

When my mailing list got to over 800 names, I started getting errors when I sent mail, and it looked like it was some kind of "over limit error."

I didn't understand, so I called Lunarpages' tech help, and they explained to me that a limit is placed on the mailing account, and that it's 800 e-mails per hour. This is so the server does not get over-taxed.

Nevermind that... since I wrote the above they have reduced it to 400 "but we recommend you treat it as 300." They have also limited the per minute bulk sends to 20. So the remainder of this discussion has been altered to accommodate the new limits as of January 2010.

PHPList can send the whole batch -- currently around 1500 subscribers -- in a minute or two, but Lunarpages was stopping the batch send-out at 400 -- meaning 1100+ subscribers would not get my mailings. PHPlist has no way of knowing Lunarpages tosses them out, so it assumes they have all been sent and received.

So I got into the code and changed some settings. Here's what to do:

Go to the file Admin > Configure > config.php and find the line that starts with
define("MAILQUEUE_BATCH_SIZE"... etc.

Change that setting and the next two to match this:




This makes PHP load the entire list of subscribers and send them out in timed batches. The default batch period is 3600 [seconds] -- which is one hour. But the changes above send out a batch of 20 immediately, and then new batches of 20 e-mails, every time 122 seconds. But then there's the throttle...

The throttle is in seconds, too. I put a 4 in there, so it waits 4 seconds between each individual message, taking at least 100 seconds to send, but actually a bit more. This is a courtesy to the mail server, since some servers object to having to process a 'dump' of emails immediately. No one at Lunarpages was objecting, though, and each batch is completed within 2 minutes.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Backing Up A Blog

Question: I use Blogger... I must admit changing all that stuff in templates and such scared me. What if I do one step wrongly and lose it all? I would love to hear from someone who has tried it successfully.

The short answer is that you probably don't need to, but if you want to, Blogger provides this set of instructions for their users. In those instructions they tell you to back up your template for one reason: you will be replacing your template with a simple little one that will assist in getting the blog data you want, and then replacing that template with your old one when you are done.
Backing up your template has nothing to do with backing up your blog entries. The former is is easier than the latter.

The whole concept of blogging is built around a database somewhere, where each item that shows up on a blogger's page is [usually] a piece of data, or singularly: a datum. A datum can be a single character, a space, a word, a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, a story, a number, a calculation [in some cases] a date, an image, a URL, a reference to a datum from elsewhere, etc.

A Database
Think of a database as a file cabinet drawer. Let's say that the bottom drawer of the file cabinet has all your blog entries.
I start with the bottom drawer as a practical matter: you fill the top drawer first, and you will knock over the cabinet when you open the drawer. But I digress.
In that file drawer is a collection of file folders. Each folder has an ID number or Name. Your particular folder has your blogger name or ID on it, and inside that folder are pieces of paper that represent records in the database, or 'blog entries.' You notice that sometimes there are pages that are stapled to other pages; these are longer blog entries where the entire entry was so large it ran onto another page, but once stapled together, we know they are really one story, or one record. In the database world, there are no stapled pages, only larger records).

At any time, you can request a blank form to write a new story. Blank form = new post. But you are only authorized to place it in the folder with your name on it. You will be arrested and searched if you try to access someone else's folder. Stay on your own property. The new blank form has lines with text telling you what to write on the lines, like Title and Story, for example. These lines help you decide where the right data go, and are equivalent to fields. This page (database record) of lines (fields) can go back into your folder any time you want, and does, when you hit the Publish button.

You can set it to "draft" if you are not ready to make it available to the public yet (think of adding a red Post-It tag to the edge of the page which means to the database keeper "Don't Publish this"), or, absent any such flag it is Prioritized to be immediately made public.

In another drawer there is a folder of your pictures (the drawer and folder might be owned by Photobucket, or Blogger, Flickr, etc). On the back of each photo, there is a bit of data that says that the picture was put there by the person whose data is in the bottom drawer whose file is marked with your ID or name, and each photo has a unique number that cannot possibly be assigned to any other photo in the world. So no mistake can be made (that metaphor can break down under certain controlled circumstances, but let's let that go for now).

And in yet another drawer (Blogger) is a folder that has pages of User Account data. this folder has a page in it about you, your email address, your birthday, and whatever else they collected about you when you signed up. This page also lists the unique name of the Blog you came up with and also what folder in the bottom drawer holds all your stories, and in what order the pages are sorted (by date? by title?), and also stores info on any other blogs you write, and where in the bottom drawer they may be found, if data is needed.

Related Databases
Each of these drawers of info represent differing databases, but they each contain info on how the various folders in separate drawers are related to each other, to make finding, sorting and displaying the info contained therein much easier.

The Template
The template is only a page layout description that tells generally how you want the data from your folder(s) displayed. That's why when you goof up your template and your page gets all screwed up, you can fix it all by simply importing your back-up of a working template or 'just get a new one."

Every time you post a new entry, you create a new record in a database. A record is defined as a collection of unique data limited to the data that can be held in a finite number of fields, which are available for each new record.

Example: a record (a page in your folder in the bottom drawer) might hold these fields (lines for bits of info)

...and, technically -- in the digital database), these items all run together (on one page) with [probably] one unique field separator between bits of data and one final character defining the end of the record. This is for space-saving when storing digitally.

The template displays each field on a 'visual page' [which one sees in a browser] in the designed order and with character size and styling chosen by the template designer [person]. Someone else can, with the right authority and permission, change the template and give the data a whole new look, without ever touching the data.

RSS Feeds
RSS (which is sometimes expanded to mean Really Simple Syndication] is a concatenation of somewhat universally accepted field names, or tags, that in essence 'form' a simplified template that RSS readers can use to re-display database data based on accepted standards. The blogging editor companies have grown to provide RSS feeds as a somewhat instantaneous, available output when you post a blog (not that difficult with behind-the-scenes programming) and its based on mostly-English "coding" (similar to HTML) and being able to pull data from the database in a defined order, and for a defined range of dates or other criteria. It's just using your data a second time.

Who Needs to Back Up
It is generally safe to suggest/believe that Blogger- and other-service-users can rest in the knowledge that Google (the mother ship) is backing everything up redundantly, and you will likely not lose your blog unless something very serious happens to Google or America, in either case, you probably will have more to worry about than your blog. So you probably will not need to worry about losing all your data. (Still, keep a financial eye on the solvency of the companies that host our data, images and other stuff)

If you host your own database (like I do with my Wordpress blog on the database needs to be backed up by you at any regular interval you feel comfortable with. It's not intuitive, but it is as easy as logging in to your host's Control Panel, accessing the MySQL tool and clicking Back-Up, and downloading the ZIP file they try to send you.

In today's world however, your host is probably backing up all their computers 24/7, so its likely your database can be recovered with a phone-call to the geeks in the tech department at your host.

For $6.95/month, by the way, I get really good service and 1500GB of web space and storage -- and a lot more -- from my personal site's host: Lunarpages.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Panorama Stitching

Stitching is the term that is used for taking 2 or more images of a scene that is too large for one frame, then assembling them into one larger image. There is a lot of math involved in smoothing out once straight lines, and combining them into the natural curves found in natural viewing.

Panorama stitching programs can cost a lot of money, but HP offers Panorama Stitching as one of the tools in a free Photo Suite.

Above is the view from my south-facing balcony. It was stitched from 14 stills. Each still was 1920 x 1080 (pixels) (the same as one frame of High-Definition video).

According to Photoshop's Image Size, which I used to size his DOWN to 1800px wide for posting (click the image above to see a larger view), the re-sized photo is 25" wide at 72dpi -- but the full-sized Panorama photo was 110" wide (!)

This view is from my south-facing balcony, overlooking the 78 freeway that divides Carlsbad from Oceanside. Just to give you an idea of how to mentally straighten this out, the olive-green "railing" on the balcony that comes at the viewer at the left of the photo is the same 15' board (straight) as the one at the right end. This is almost a 180-degree view from east to went (l to r). Across the freeway on the right is a driving range where golfers hit their golf balls across a long, flat green onto a hill with targets marking how far their shot would calculate to if the hill did not stop the trajectory.
Tips for shooting stills for panoramas:
1. Lock the exposure, so that each shot will match the others. Auto exposure will adjust each differently. I made an exposure measurement in the middle section, then locked it and shot them all in sequence, left to right
2. After you shoot each shot, as you re-frame, make sure there is 1/3 -1/2 of the next frame filled with that portion of the scene you just shot. (1/2 is better) The more redundancy of information from shot to shot the better.

Load them into the HP Panorama Stitcher in order (it also allows you to re-order them, if you goof up) and click OKAY, and in a matter of seconds, it does the matching and the math and finishes off a large panorama.

Panorama software is built into a free set of tools made by HP
Mac versions (Photosmart Studio)
PC (look here)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Improving Your eBay Listing Titles

A lot of eBay users, when executing a search, do not search using anything except the basic search. I don't actually know this to be a fact, but at age 50, knowing people as I think I do (yeah, so I work alone in a studio all day, what about it?) and watching the number of people who say "yeah, but I can't remember that" when I tell them control-c and control-v are a quicker way to copy and paste, I feel reasonably certain that my doubts about the common eBay user using the advanced tools are somewhat well-founded, if not factually accurate.

If you go to the eBay home page -- and there are a number of people who get there by typing in their browser's Address field -- you will get a simple search box. I would imagine many people start there, and may even return there to do their searches. We are, after all, creatures of habit.

That search box looks like this:

So, you enter the word "painting" and click "enter" and you get a new page that, as of today lists 35,083 "Best matches" (that's encouraging...I hope someone finds my needle in the haystack). 6215 of them are listed by self-representing artists, 24,775 are listed in the Paintings category.
There are 86,400 seconds in a day, which means that a new painting is listed, on average, every 3 - 3.5 seconds or so... And that's 24/7/365. Even while you sleep.

Helping people narrow down what they are searching for is a really good idea. If your last name (or first) is Rembrandt, you may not need to do many modifications to your current listings, but I know I am not that famous. It's naive to think people will search eBay for my last name.

There is a tool eBay supplies
A simple check box. IF (and I stress IF) someone is brave enough to click the BUY button at the top of the screen (and I am sure there are a number of people who will not because they are afraid it will immediately deduct money from their bank account), they will be taken to a different kind of search window:

There, one can type in a search string (string = series of letters and/or words) which will ONLY display results that have a match for those words IN THE TITLE of the listing. It will NOT return results for ANY of the words in your description.

So if you have an incredible painting of the SS Betty Anne and someone is looking for a schooner painting, they will never find your painting without the word "schooner" in your TITLE...

...UNLESS they check the little box, which is by default unchecked, next to the words "Search Title and Description"

See again the image, above.

So you can blather on all day in your description about how "this schooner painting is regarded by schooner enthusiasts and schooner geniuses, as one of the finest schooner works of art -- an original oil painting by John Q Famous -- and should be in the home of any schooner-loving schooner enthusiast or art collector" and your listing will be completely ignored if the title of your listing is "Original Oil Painting by John Q Famous - The SS Betty Anne L@@K!" because it doesn't say "schooner" in the title -- even though you LOADED it with "schooner" in the description.

You will get more hits from searches with the title Schooner Ship Boat Nautical Oil Painting Original

Monday, January 7, 2008

Knowing Your File-type

Macs and Extensions
Until Mac's OS X (pronounced "ten" not "ecks") Mac users prided themselves in not needing to know those pesky little 3-letter combinations PC users had come to know as "extensions" and instead relied on the Mac OS (9 and earlier) to figure out which application should use it from file-type and creator info stored invisibly in the file.
I was asking a friend if he'd yet changed his Mac's default file-type for Screen Captures. He told me he didn't know, because when he does a capture using Command-Shift-3 [or 4] the process only produces a file named "Picture x" but no extension.

That is an issue of how you choose to display filenames, and this applies to both Macs and PCs. In my friend's case, his system settings were still at the default: Hide Extensions.

It's easily changed: on a Mac, Go to the Finder, then Choose Finder > Preferences.

Now, choose the Advanced icon:

Check "Show all File extensions" and close it.

On a PC, choose Tools > Folder Options...
Folder Options

Then un-check "Hide extensions for known file types." (click image to see larger.)

Don't forget to click Apply to All Folders, the button at the top.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Mac Check-up

Sorry PC users, this one's for Macs.

Have you repaired your permissions lately? Even if you have no idea what that means or does, you really need to do it. At least once a month. If you have a Mac, do it now, and also add it to your iCal scheduler, repeat it monthly, and set an alarm to alert you with a message on that day. If you want, add this URL: to the notes so you can find these instructions again.

Macs start acting up for fewer reasons than PCs, in my experience, but if you use a Mac for enough hours, you start to recognize when it's "not quite right." But even if you think it's running well, do some housecleaning anyway.

Repair Permissions
The tool to use is on your Mac. It's called Disk Utility. You can find it on your start-up drive, usually at Macintosh HD > Applications > Utilites > Disk
Whether yours displays with the ".app" after it is a matter left to your personal Finder preferences.

The Procedure is Simple
Open the Disk Utility application, and click on the name of your start-up drive:

Next, press the button at the lower left of the right-hand pane... the button that says Repair Permissions. (Click the picture at left, for a larger view).

Now sit back and watch the progress bar at the bottom. (2 to 6 minutes, depending on number of repairs to make.

This is so easy, there are actually no decisions to make, no questions to answer. "Set it and forget it."

When you're done, the "Report" shown in the window should look just like mine -- no errors. If you see any more text than that, run it again. If you see no more additional text when you're done, you have successfully helped your computer be well. If you see a LOT more than that, be glad you read this.

Repeat the procedure if the report is not "clean" like mine.

When You Should Repair Permissions
  • Once a month
  • Immediately after you install any Apple Updates
  • Immediately after you install any Apple Software
  • Immediately after you add any third party enhancements
  • Whenever your computer starts acting strangely.
  • After System Software upgrades, like from Tiger to Leopard.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

No One Buys My Paintings

Make sure you have included on your blog some way of getting hold of you! You know: Contact Info. There are an astounding number of blogs out there that do not have any contact information on them.

Having Zero Contact Info Will Affect Sales
We need to understand the difference between privacy versus deliberate, abject obscurity bordering on non-existence. The latter will have a direct impact on sales.

But, David, I don't want my e-mail address on there for spam-robots to harvest and start sending me offensive images, medical enhancement ads, mortgage info, solicitations of marriage from Russian women, or all that other stuff I already get in my InBox anyway.

I understand. And I don't want you to, either.

But you need to have contact information on your website or blog. You just need to make it spam-robot proof.

Here's How
Use a free service to encrypt your e-mail address, such as the one I have bookmarked at this site. Enter your e-mail address (carefully) in the proper field then click the 'Encode' button. Finally, select everything in the box and Copy it to the clipboard.

Here is what you have stored in memory right now. When you Paste it, you will see it all as one, long line, and without color differences as shown:
Code Snippet

The Clipboard
Think of the clipboard as a wallet for your computer task. When you copy, you are putting money in the wallet. As long as you don't paste, you have not spent your money. You can do a whole lot of things on your computer, and that money will still be there when you need it. Unlike a real wallet however, if you copy something else, it does not add the new money to the wallet — it replaces it.

Now, the code, as you've just encoded it will display your e-mail address on your web page, and will look something like this:

Yes, you can see it, and it's a working link, but spam-robots cannot see it.

If that's good enough for you leave it as it is. Or add "E-mail me: " before it, to get this:
E-mail me:

But maybe you'd rather just have this instead:
Purchase Inquiry? e-mail me!

You'll have to modify the code — and it's not that difficult. In the first code snippet I posted above, everything in red is the part you replace with what you would like the link to say. Leave the ">" and the "<" on either side of it:

If you copy that and store it somewhere in a text file, you can use that snippet of code anywhere in your blog, posts or sidebar and you'll have the right kind of robot-proof link every time! You miht even like to insert it into the descriptive paragraph of your Profile, in teh About Me section.

One Step Fancier
One other cool trick will help you determine if people are writing to you from your blog or website:

Add the following immediately before the last double-quote (see the blue text) like this:

Try it — It'll send me a thank-you: e-mail me

An Artist's Domain

Okay, so you have a blog and you're posting your paintings to it, and they are selling, and you are getting a lot of visitors and subscribers, and now you're thinking that someday you might actually want to expand beyond the free blog account.

Would you spend $15 per year for your own website?

Come Up With A Domain Name
You need to invent a domain name no one else has yet. Then buy it now! It's less than $15 to control that name, and you can grab it before someone else does, and start using it today.

To have a website you need 3 things:
  1. A domain name (i.e. — my own)
  2. A Registrar for that domain name (someone to whom you pay a fee to keep records on file documenting that you are the [current and paid-up] owner of that unique domain name).
  3. a website host — someone willing to rent you space on their computers to hold all your files, pictures, videos, etc. that make up the bits of your whole website.

Register it With a reputable Registrar
I use and highly recommend the registration service provided by for their superior customer service, and their complete lack of giving you trouble if you ever want to transfer a domain away from them. Right now you may not have any idea what that means, but domain transfers can be a big hassle, depending on who the registrar is. is primarily a Registrar, though they also now offer hosting. You use them to register the domain name you've invented and want to reserve for your own use (or to keep other people from using it — like, for example, your own name.)

Many registrars use "come-ons" such as lower prices for registration but lock you into other pay-for services or long-term commitments to get those prices. Not so with Dotster. $15 per name, and you own it.

Getting Your Domain Name to Link To Your Blog
Once you own a domain name ($15) you can then use a feature called URL Forwarding, which offers for $5 per year. It's as simple as clicking a checkbox, and listing your blog's URL. You're done.

URL Forwarding happens at the registrar level. When someone types in, for example,, or clicks a link made from that URL, URL Forwarding will take them to the address they are to be forwarded to. In my case, I use the free blogging service provided by; that actual URL to my blog is, but I own the domain name and I use's $5 URL Forwarding feature to transfer people to my free blog.

So in essence, I have a complete website that takes advantage of all of Blogger's features, using the domain name I registered, and it costs me $20 a year.

Using masked URL forwarding (a free option) I am able to set it so that "when you get there" your browser will not change the URL in the Address/Location field.

Click both of these links, and notice that they both arrive at exactly the same place, but the addresses look different when you get there:
Now which would you rather have on your business card?

As you grow, and you want to add more pages (like a bio, products, galleries, contact info, etc.), but never give up your blog (or, perhaps, add another) you can get a domain host and start a "real" website using the domain name you already own.

In another post, to follow, I will discuss domain hosts and how they benefit you when you are ready.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Building a Crate For Shipping a Large Painting

One of the scariest things ever is having someone else deliver a painting to a client. Add to that: paintings are sticky, one-of-a-kind, have part of your very soul in them, and are very fragile. They are often nothing more than a wooden window with a thin layer of cloth stretched across it, and all that's valuable about it is applied to one side of this vulnerable film.

All of these things were foremost on my mind even before I started painting the 32" x 40" oil portrait to ship 1500 miles away from my studio.

I made the following video using Google Sketch-up (it was the first thing I ever did in Sketch-up, so pardon the glaring errors...) and posted it on my blog Everyday Paintings along with a number of supporting photographs and comments, describing how and why I built my crate the way I did. You can read all the details at the specific blog enrty Crate Expectations. (Yeah, I made that up, too).

Thursday, January 3, 2008

PC: How to Save a Picture of Your Computer Screen

On a PC, there is a key on your keyboard called Print Screen. (It may actually be an abbreviation of that.

If you need to send someone a picture of what you see on your screen, hit that key.
You just copied to the clipboard a picture of every pixel on your monitor.

Now, while everything is hanging around invisibly in your computer's memory, open an application that accepts images via the Paste command. Applications such as Photoshop, Word, Lotus Notes, Microsoft Paint, and many others will accept an image via Paste.

From there, with some of these programs, you can crop or edit the image to show just the part you need. Save, attach to e-mail and send.

In Photoshop, all you do is choose File > New and you will see that the resulting dialog box will already have the size of your "memorized picture" dimensions ready to go. Just click Okay, then Paste into the resulting empty window. Crop out what you want, then save as a Jpeg, and you can e-mail it, or transfer it via AOL/AIM.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Change Your Screen-Capture Default Type

Most Mac users know that Command-Shift-3 will take a screen shot (called a capture) of the whole screen and save it to the Desktop.

And most of those same people know that Command-Shift-4 lets you do a partial screen capture... executing that key-combo turns the cursor into sort of a gun-sight cross-hairs, which you can use to drag a rectangle around the area of your screen that you want to capture — clicking in one corner of the area you want and then, while holding the button down, dragging to the opposite diagonal corner then letting go.

If your speakers are turned up, you'll hear a retro-film-style camera shutter sound.

But by default, depending on your version of OS X, the image is saved as a PDF or a PNG image format — which are usually, in my opinion, not the format you want to use for e-mailing someone a shot of what you're looking at on your screen. The Mac PDFs, by default, are bloated with unneeded quality, and PNGs are not viewable on older systems, browsers or many e-mail programs.

PC users can get a capture of their whole screen, too, in BMP format, but hitting the Print Screen key on their keyboard, then opening Start > Programs > Accessories > Paint and then executing the Paste command.

You may need to change Finder Settings to even see the file extension. Learn about that here.

Change the format of the capture!
If you are not too squeamish about using the Terminal Application just long enough to make the change and then quitting (think of the "5-second Rule" for food that hits the ground), start up Terminal (found at Applications > Utilities > Terminal) and, after the screen prompt with is your "home account name and some other odd characters" type (or select, copy and paste) the following:

defaults write type jpg

Double-check to make sure you have typed it correctly. Hit the Enter or Return key to "execute that command," then quit Terminal.

After your next computer restart, all your screen captures will be in jpg format.