For October 2012, I tried to practice the ukulele every day. I ended up doing more traveling than I expected, but I managed to play ukulele most of the days. I’m still a total beginner, but it was a lot of fun! My favorite song to play so far is M.T.A. by the Kingston Trio. My Dad used to play that sometimes as I was growing up.
For November 2012, I mentioned to my wife that I was thinking of trying to get good sleep this month, like eight hours a night. My wife’s reaction could be categorized as skeptical at best. Which just makes me want to do it, of course.
So I’m setting a goal of eight hours of sleep a night for the next 30 days. We’ll see how it goes! If you want more context, here’s what I mean when I talk about 30 day challenges:
Why not think about something that sounds like fun, or that you’ve wanted to start, and give it a shot for the next 30 days?
My fellow Americans, I’d like to introduce my latest Halloween costume: Matt Romney!
My five-point plan for the Mitt Romney Halloween costume went like this:
Start with a suit and tie.
Put a little silver in my sideburns. My wife used some silver and white eye shadow.
Swoosh the hair up a little bit and lock it in with hairspray.
Take off the glasses, and
Add a flag. Boom!
This was a fun, easy, comfortable costume. I practiced a few of Mitt Romney’s catchphrases and I think people really enjoyed seeing “Matt Romney” around the Googleplex.
My wife and I are also trying something new for Halloween. I remember as a kid when I got a full-size candy bar for Halloween–it blew me away! I still remember those neighbors as really cool. Recently someone reminded me of that experience.
So this year, the first couple dozen kids who stop by our house are in for a nice treat:
Happy Halloween, everyone! You might also enjoy seeing some of my other Halloween costumes.
My grandfather has been seriously ill this week, so I’m flying tonight to be with him in Tennessee. If you’re waiting on me for a reply about something, it will probably need to wait.
I still hope to attend PubCon next week but I can’t promise that I’ll be able to make it.
Added: My grandfather passed away just a few days after this post on Friday, October 12, 2012. I was glad that I got to fly out and see him, and to tell him that he was well-loved and appreciated. He lived to be over 100, so the funeral was more of a celebration of his life. May we all live so long and so well.
Last month I did a secret 30 day challenge: everyday I did something nice for my wife. It could be surprising her with flowers, doing some chore around the house without her asking, or just trying to be present and focused when she wanted to talk. This challenge turned out really well.
At first, I thought of writing down the nice thing I did each day, like when I tracked my “month of kindness” challenge. But instead, I found myself adopting an attitude of trying to be more supportive throughout the day. My wife noticed the change in my behavior and remarked on it mid-month, so I guess I still had some room to be a better husband.
If you’re married, you should definitely consider this challenge. I was a little worried that when I revealed my challenge, my wife would feel like I’d been deceiving her or holding something back, but she was just happy that I’d been doing thoughtful things for her this month.
Okay, so what’s up for the month of October? I’m going a little more light-hearted. My wife got me a ukulele a couple months ago, and I’m going to try to play the ukulele each day. The ukulele is a great instrument because you can’t take yourself too seriously playing a ukulele. It’s a very low-pressure instrument.
I’ve never had much musical training, so I’m complete beginner. Don’t expect me to upload any YouTube videos or perform in public. I’m just having fun with it, which is exactly what you should do with a ukulele. Here’s a little video to get your day started:
If you want to join me in a 30 day challenge, just pick out something you’ve always wanted to try and give it a go!
Recently a newspaper contacted me. Their PageRank had dropped from 7 to 3, and they wanted to know why. They genuinely didn’t seem know what the issue was, so I took some time to write them an in-depth reply. Part of the motivation for my blog is to provide information in more scalable ways, so I figured I’d strip any identifying information from my email and post it. Here’s what I wrote:
In particular, earlier this year on [website] we saw links labeled as sponsored that passed PageRank, such as a link like [example link]. That’s a clear violation of Google’s quality guidelines, and it’s the reason that [website]‘s PageRank as well as our trust in the website has declined.
In fact, we received a outside spam report about your site. The spam report passed on an email from a link seller offering to sell links on multiple pages on [website] based on their PageRank. Some pages mentioned in that email continue to have unusual links to this day. For example [example url] has a section labeled “PARTNER LINKS” which links to [linkbuyer].
So my advice would be to investigate how paid links that pass PageRank ended up on [website]: who put them there, are any still up, and to investigate whether someone at the [newspaper] received money to post paid links that pass PageRank without disclosing that payment, e.g. using ambiguous labeling such as “Partner links.” That’s definitely where I would dig.
After that investigation is complete and any paid links that pass PageRank are removed, the site’s webmaster can do a reconsideration request using Google’s free webmaster tools console at google.com/webmasters. I would include as much detail as you can about what you found out about the paid links. That will help us assess how things look going forward.
That’s about it. This case was interesting because we also had an external spam report about the newspaper selling links.
Two-factor authentication means “something you know” (like a password) and “something you have,” which can be an object like a phone. Here’s a simple video about how it works:
I often hear the same questions or objections when I recommend two-factor authentication. Jeff Atwood has done a good job of debunking common misperceptions–check out his post, which even has pictures. But here are some misconceptions that I hear, along with the reality:
Myth #1: But what if my cell phone doesn’t have SMS/signal, or I’m in a foreign country? Reality: You can install a standalone app called Google Authenticator (it’s also available in the App Store), so your cell phone doesn’t need a signal.
Myth #2: Okay, but what about if my cell phone runs out of power, or my phone is stolen? Reality: You can print out a small piece of paper with 10 one-time rescue codes and put that in your wallet. Use those one-time codes to log in even without your phone.
Myth #3: Don’t I have to fiddle with an extra PIN every time I log in? Reality: You can tell Google to trust your computer for 30 days and sometimes even longer.
Myth #4: I heard two-factor authentication doesn’t work with POP and IMAP? Reality: You can still use two-factor authentication even with POP and IMAP. You create a special “application-specific password” that your mail client can use instead of your regular password. You can revoke application-specific passwords at any time.
Myth #5: Okay, but what if I want to verify how secure Google Authenticator is? Reality: Google Authenticator is free, open-source, and based on openstandards.
One last tip: use a different password on Gmail/Google than on other services. If you reuse a password and a hacker cracks into one company, they can use the same password to crack into your Google account.
One of the most tenacious blackhat webspam techniques we continue to see is hacked sites. I wanted to remind site owners that our free “Fetch as Google” tool can be a really helpful way to see whether you’ve successfully cleaned up a hacked site.
For example, recently a well-known musician’s website was hacked. The management firm for the musician wrote in to say that the site was clean now. Here’s the reply I sent back:
Unfortunately when our engineers checked this morning, the site was still hacked. I know the page looks clean to you, but when we send Googlebot to fetch www.[domain].com this morning, we see
<title>Generic synthroid bad you :: Canadian Pharmacy</title>
on the page. What the hackers are doing is sneaky but unfortunately pretty common. wgr55 . When you surf directly to the website, you see normal content. But when a search engine (or a visitor from a search engine) visits the website, they see hacked drug-related content. The reason that the hackers do it this way is so that the hacked content is harder to find/remove and so that hacked content stays up longer.
One important tool Google provides to help in assessing whether a site is cleaned up is our “Fetch as Googlebot” feature in our free webmaster console at http://google.com/webmasters/ . That tool lets you actually send Googlebot to your website and see exactly what we see when we fetch the page. That tool would have let you known that the website was still hacked.
I hope that helps give an idea of where to go next.
Something I love about “Fetch as Googlebot” is that it’s self-service–you don’t even need to talk to anyone at Google to diagnose whether your hacked site looks clean.
Last month (June 2012), my 30 day challenge was to try to eat mindfully (eat more slowly, don’t eat while distracted by TV or web browsing, chew more, stop eating when I’m full, etc.). It turns out that eating mindfully is hard. I’m the sort of person that eats whatever is on my plate, so a couple tricks that worked for me were to 1) get smaller plates and utensils, and 2) don’t put a serving of food on your plate unless you know you want it.
My 30 day challenge this month (July 2012) is “Don’t send any emails after 9 p.m.” Email is the part of my life that is most out of control, so it’s worth trying a few approaches to tackle it. I thought about doing something like “Only send 25 emails a day” but time tracking is much easier. Danish to English dictionary . You can help by not sending me any emails this month.
By the way, if you’re wondering about this whole “30 day challenge” thing, you can watch my TED talk about it:
Beyond clear-cut blackhat webspam, the second-biggest category of spam that Google deals with is hacked sites. The most common reaction we hear from webmasters is “The problem is with the Google search. There is nothing wrong with our website.” That’s a real quote from an email one site owner recently sent us. Sadly, it turns out that the site is almost always really hacked.
The single best piece of advice I can give to prevent website hacking is “keep your web server software up-to-date and fully patched.” That prevention is much better than the hassle of cleaning up a hack. Here’s an example email I just sent to a site owner with the identifying details removed:
Hi xxxxxxx, I’m the head of Google’s webspam team. Unfortunately, example.com really has been hacked by people trying to sell pills. I’m attaching an image to show the page that we’re seeing.
P.S. If you visit a page like http://www.example.com/deep-url-path/ and don’t see the pill links, that means the hackers are being extra-sneaky and only showing the spammy pill links to Google. We provide a free tool for that situation as well. It’s called “Fetch as Googlebot” and it lets you send Google to your website and will show you exactly what we see. I would recommend this blog post http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/11/generic-cialis-on-my-website-i-think-my.html describing how to use that tool, because your situation looks quite similar.
Anyway, just a reminder for site owners to keep their web server software up-to-date, because hacked sites are a real pain. Most Google searchers and even website owners don’t think about hacked sites much, but on our side have to spend a fair amount of effort writing classifiers to catch this illegal activity, helping the victims of hacked sites, adapting when the hackers change their techniques, etc.