Yes, I Am Still Alive

I know, I know – it’s been a LONG time since I’ve posted anything. The last two months have been way too busy, what with an appendectomy, a rewrite of Teal (my novel), great progress on a new book, way too many video games (God of War, Borderlands, BioShock…), and a couple large side projects that have FINALLY been wrapped up.

At any rate, several months of inactivity doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about the site. A number of improvements to the site’s layout are in the works (note the new icons top-right, for example), and I’ve got some cool projects just about ready for uploading:

  • Two cool new VB projects (one game, one graphics) are in the final stages of “clean-up”
  • Newly equalized mp3s for all my music – which will make them WAY more mp3-player-friendly
  • If all goes according to plan, a re-licensing of my first novel under a CC license, which would allow me to release it online for your reading pleasure. (This is something I’ve been wanting to do for awhile.)

Along with these updates are some back-end site improvements you (hopefully) won’t notice, which should make it easier for me to update the site. I’m hoping that will motivate me to post more regularly, and if nothing else it will simplify the process of getting content off my hard drive and into your hands. :)

So pardon the dust as the site undergoes some much-needed updates, and look forward to a 2010 chock full of new and improved content.

On Sharing (Licenses, Copyrights, and Fair Use)

You may not realize this from scanning my site, but I was this close (envision thumb and pointer finger nearly touching) to pursuing a career in intellectual property law.   I even went so far as to take the LSAT, enroll in a pre-law seminar, and participate in a semester-long legal internship.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but I obviously decided against that career path.  Today I am employed as a scientist by day and writer by night (with the occasional dabble in music composition and/or programming).

I’m glad I made the choice I did.

Many things deterred me from pursuing IP law, not least of which is the fact that current IP laws are a bane upon consumers.  From DRM to software patents to P2P throttling, the digital world is consistently held back by ignorant, consumer-unfriendly corporation-sponsored lawmaking.  Nowhere is this more apparent than with the joke called DRM – one of the silliest inventions of the modern era.

As a strong supporter of the EFF and a believer that the DMCA is severely flawed, it’s a bit of a shame that it took me so long to make tannerhelland.com copyleft friendly…but better late then never, right?

You’ll notice two main changes to the site as of this week.

1) All tannerhelland.com music is now available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. In layman’s terms, this means that anyone can remix, tweak, and build upon these songs – even for commercial reasons – as long as they credit me and license their creations under identical terms.

So please – download the complete tannerhelland.com music collection and share it with everyone you know!

2) All source code available on tannerhelland.com is now available under a BSD License.  I settled on the BSD license after a fair amount of research, and I strongly feel it is the best fit for the style and type of code I provide.  A BSD License allows unlimited redistribution of code for any purpose, provided all copyright notices and disclaimers of warranty are maintained.  Also, my name may not be used for endorsement of a derived work without specific permission.

Importantly, the BSD license also allows my code to be incorporated into proprietary commercial products – including closed-source products.  This clause is important to me.  While I admire the GPL/LGPL and similar licenses – and feel they play a very important role in the software ecosystem – I also understand that many programmers make a living writing closed-source software.  I want all the code on this site to be freely usable by anyone, including those who write closed-source software for a living.  My code and tutorials are meant to be educational and informative, and I hope they help as many programmers as possible to solve otherwise difficult problems.

As always, if you would like to use any site content (music, source code, or others) under a license other than what is explicitly stated on the content’s page, please contact me.

In the meantime, I would strongly recommend learning more about the EFF and the service(s) they provide.  Also, Creative Commons has an excellent site with boatloads of information on sharing your work without sacrificing ownership or copyrights.

NEW MUSIC!! Can you believe it?!

My friends, the wait is over.  I am FINALLY getting around to updating the music on this site.

I know, I know – it’s been (literally) years since I made any updates to my music entries, but in all fairness I’ve been a busy man.  Working full-time, writing a 400 page novel, and being married to my best friend all consume a lot of time.

But no more excuses!  I’ve finished my novel and am currently working on signing up an agent, so with my newfound free time I’m working on updating my poor, forgotten music.

Here’s how this is going to work.

Starting with my earliest music entries, I’m rewriting each song description/article.  The old descriptions were thrown together in haste, then cut-and-pasted from T.H.I.S. (Tanner Helland Independent Sound, my old music studio), and they are in desperate need of a rewrite.  So first things first, the descriptions are being rewritten.  (This includes writing proper excerpts so song pages aren’t useless on the search results screen.)

Next, I am tweaking and fine-tuning the MIDIs for all MIDI-based songs.  This includes remixing most of my drum tracks, stripping out dissonant notes, and cleaning up sloppy orchestration.  This is the most time-consuming step of the process and most of you probably won’t even notice these little changes.

But that’s okay, because you will notice the final step in my revamp process.

The final step is to produce all MIDIs with full soundfont orchestration.  Previously, most of my MIDIs were generated with the default XP soundfont, leaving them sounding tinny, synthesized, and weak.  While professional soundfonts aren’t quite up to par with a real orchestra/rock band (obviously), they are markedly better than the default XP soundfont – and the corresponding difference in my music will be huge.  For example, check out Ominosity (old mp3 and new mp3) and Surreptitious (old mp3 and new mp3).  Notice the difference?

As each song is updated, the old mp3 will be renamed as <songname>_old.mp3 if you’d like to compare versions.  Otherwise, keep an eye out for updates as I work my way through my large music repository.

I am also looking into licensing all my music under a Creative Commons license, which I think would be a great move.  I’ll let you know if this formally happens.

Finally, if you’ve never listened to any of my music, now would be a good time!  :)  Here are some of my favorite tracks to get you started:

Bloody Tears (Castlevania II Remix)

Leaving Millie

Retribution

FFVII – Aerith’s Theme (Remix for Solo Piano)

And – dare I say it – once all my existing songs have been updated, you may even get to see some all-new, totally original music.

<gasp>

Stay tuned!

Building a Better Blog

As you may have noticed, things have started looking a lot better around here.  I thought it was worth taking a moment to mention some of the new features I’ve been working on – features that should make your experience on tannerhelland.com better than ever before.

Totally Revamped Site Search

The normal WordPress search function leaves a lot to be desired – but with the help of a couple excellent plugins, you can turn blog searches into something surprisingly intuitive and useful.  Some of this site’s recent updates include:

  • Tags, categories, URLs, meta data, and comments are now searchable.
  • Search terms are now highlighted, and appropriate excerpts are shown on the search results screen.
  • Search results are sorted by relevance – not date.
  • Searches that return multiple pages now have a “jump to page” feature (unlike the former “previous page” and “next” page only).

Iconified Links

Outgoing links now have a Wikipedia-like icon (like so), and each outgoing link will spawn a new tab/window.  Links to downloadable files will also show an appropriate icon, (i.e. zips or mp3s).

Improved VB Code Zips

A good chunk of this site is dedicated to game programming, so I’ve taken the time to go through each code .zip file and clean it up.  Now each .zip includes a README file, proper comments, and the most up-to-date version of my award-winning FastGraphics class (which gives easy access to DIB sections).  I’ve also removed useless files (like .vbw) to keep .zip sizes down.

Minor Aesthetic Changes

Some small aesthetic changes have crept onto the site, including more use of orange (orange is a grossly underutilized web color, IMO), some font adjustments (to make titles more readable), and the addition of a new “Now Playing” box in the top-right.  I figure this will provide a fun insight into my eclectic music collection.  :)

SEO galore

This feature has mostly happened behind-the-scenes, but I’m happy to say that SEO most definitely works.  After several weeks of research and behind-the-scenes tweaking, this site now plays much friendlier with search bots.  As a result, traffic from searches has more than quadrupled in the last month, and my hope is that it continues to grow.  More traffic = more advertising revenue = a bigger and better site for everyone.

***

Many thanks to all my visitors for your interest and comments, and I hope to have some big, exciting announcements in the next couple weeks.  Stay tuned!

Traffic ‘Round Here (2008)

2008 site stats

Though I was late getting this up, here’s what the stats for 2008 looked like (as collected by the excellent AWStats tool).

2008 was a big year for the site.  After living on free hosting services for almost ten years, tannerhelland.com finally found a real home on a real server (woohoo!).  Rather than static html, the site is now driven by WordPress, and the visual layout is currently derived from the excellent “The Morning After” theme by Arun Kale.  My previous disparate music, programming, and personal blog sites have all been condensed into one messy whole – and I like it.  A lot.

This is what a day on the frontpage of Digg can do to your site traffic.

This is what a day on the
frontpage of Digg can do
to your site traffic.

As you can see above, from when the new site launched in August through December 31st, some 20,000 visitors hit the site.  A massive chunk of this (over half) came when my R.I.P. Windows XP article went frontpage on Digg.  What’s funny is that this is one of my least original posts (it’s really more of a rant), and I had absolutely no idea that the article had gone frontpage until I checked my email the next day and had page after page of angry/congratulatory/sarcastic/friendly emails.  I learned a lot from that experience, and subsequent posts have been more carefully constructed…

One of my goals for the coming year is to double each of these stats.  I’d like to see closer to 30,000 unique visitors in 2009, and it’d be great if the number of visits per visitor could get bumped closer to 2.0.  Part of the way I plan to accomplish this is with a renewed emphasis on regular posting (which I hope you’ve enjoyed!) and a host of SEO changes, along with the continual addition of content from my old programming and music sites.  It’s all a work in progress, but hey – at least it’s progressing!

Also, in the coming weeks my general article content will be shifting somewhat. Stay tuned for details – and thanks for visiting.  If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to the RSS feed of your choice at the very bottom of this page!

2008: Year in Review

Ah, another year over – and 2008 was a big one (for both me and the site).  Some highlights include:

  • tannerhelland.com finally has a real home.  2008 marked the merging of all my previous sites into one cohesive whole.   (I know, I know – “it’s about time!”)
  • 2008 was the last year I used a Microsoft OS.  I made the switch to Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux and absolutely love it.
  • 2008 was the year I finally picked up a PS3.  It’s a beautiful device.
  • For the first time in 20+ years, 2008 was my first school-free year.  Being done with university has been GREAT, and being able to “just work” for an entire year was a godsend.  In fact, the only things I miss from university life are student tax breaks.
  • 2008 was the year I officially became an author.  The year started with placement as a semifinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) competition, and hopefully 2009 will be the year that my first novel finds a home with a major publisher.  In the meantime, pick up an advance copy of the book at http://www.createspace.com/3341273.

2008 was a great year, and 2009 looks to be even better.  Hopefully you can say the same.  :)

Happy New Year!

This site is not ugly

After much searching, I think I’ve finally settled on a new design for the site. My current theme is built off “The Morning After” theme by Arun Kale – and I can’t begin to describe how much I’m impressed with his work. This is the first WordPress theme I’ve used where the CSS and PHP is reasonably designed and – even more importantly – reasonably commented. A usage and customization sheet is provided for those looking to tailor the theme to their particular needs, and built-in support for several excellent plugins (including WP-Print, one of my new favorites) is just icing on the cake.

Some of the site is still a work in progress, but much is already functional.  The links at the top-right all work (including an interactive archive and an all-new contact page).  I’m in the process of reactivating subscriptions by email, but for those who are already subscribed, don’t worry – you’re still active.  I just haven’t built a mechanism for adding new email subscribers.  I also need to begin writing Asides (similar to “tweets”) so that section isn’t blank on the homepage.  Also, as you may have noticed, the front page is currently suffering from some awkward placement of sidebar features.  I’m working on reorganizing that as well.

On individual article pages, two great new features are now available: emailing articles to friends, and a print-friendly “print this article” link.  For the record, images and videos won’t print (to save some trees), but links will be printed as footnotes to prevent the loss of any critical information.  It’s also easier than ever to subscribe to specific category feeds.  If, for example, you’re only interested in my Ubuntu Linux articles, simply click on the “Ubuntu (Linux)” category on the left, then select the RSS feed on the next screen.  This will prevent you from having to listen to any more of my ramblings than is absolutely necessary.  :)

Over the next couple weeks you may notice some minor tweaks, but all-in-all I couldn’t be happier with the new look.

Many, many thanks to Arun for his work on this great theme.

This site is ugly

It’s no secret.  The design for this site has been through so many iterations that it has drifted far past what this theme was meant to do.  As such, I’m currently working on a new implementation that’s not quite so…ugly.  :)

As such, my posting has dropped off – but never fear.  More exciting articles are in the works, and I’ll get back to regular posting once I’m not embarrassed by how this site looks.

Time for a redesign

You might notice things looking a bit strange around here – but don’t worry! It’s all part of (yet another) massive tannerhelland.com redesign.

Why another redesign, you ask?  With the release of my new book Teal, the time was ripe to finally unify the visual appearance of this site, including new backgrounds, header, layout, etc.  This time things will be a bit more on the bold red side (as opposed to pastel blues and greens), so if you see some clashing colors over the next week, fear not – things will eventually be back to normal.

“Eventually.”  :D

We got music

It’s taken quite some time, but I’ve finally managed to get all of the music from the old site (T.H.I.S. 1.0) onto this server.  Glad to have that done!

As you can see, blog entries have been created for each song and they are also nicely categorized by style/genre in the “Categories” list to your right.  I’m a little worried that the transition might have broken some links – I’ve tried my best to keep things accurate, but if you catch a song link that’s broken please let me know.

Beyond that, please enjoy the music!  I’m getting eager to post some cool new piano pieces as well as some sheet music for my existing piano numbers.  I’m also preparing a series of articles on some of my favorite Final Fantasy games, which oughta be controversial enough to draw in some new traffic and create some good discussion, hehe.

So stay tuned!