Thursday, September 27, 2007

Blog marketing tips – Building traffic and getting stats

I am now 62 posts into my life as a blogger. Some weeks have been more productive than others but overall I am happy with my publishing frequency. If you have a blog which you want people to read then it is not always enough to write superb posts. In order to get people to view your blog you need to market yourself, otherwise people will not find your blog. So far I have not found any method that gives me loads of visitors without me having to do anything, however, some ways work better than others. Here are my tips.

The most basic tip of all is to keep writing. If you do not update your blog frequently, people will not visit your blog frequently. It is also very important to establish some contacts. Go to other blogs and comment on their posts. If you appreciate a particular blog you can add a link to it on your blog and then ask them if they want to do the same. Commenting a lot on other blogs also spreads your name and in consequence makes people interested in what you have to say.

The next step is to get your blog indexed by search engines and blog catalogues. The easiest way to do this is to use a pinging service. Personally I use Pingoat and Ping-o-matic. Both of these pinging services announce your new posts to a few dozen search engines and blog catalogues.

If you have accomplished the basics above (not a trivial feat), then you can start to look at different web-applications that will help you build traffic. If you have a blog in English, some time to spend, and want to build traffic, then my best tip is to sign up for Blogexplosion. The concept is simple, if you read other peoples' blogs then they will read your blog. At blogexplosion you get 0.5 visitors for every 30s visit you make on a blog. Every now and then you also get so called "mystery credits", which is just a kind of bonus. So you really get a little bit more than 0.5 visitors on your blog for every 30s visit to another blog. There are various similar services, including Blogmad and Blogadvance, but Blogexplosion has worked best for me so far.

It is nice to be able to see how traffic builds on your new blog, and there are some neat ways of visualizing the trends. For basic stats and trends (see picture above) I use Blogflux topsites, which generates charts showing how many visitors I have had for the last month. Blogflux mapstats (see picture below) is another excellent service which allows you to see the location of the people who have visited your blog as well as the site from which they came, or alternatively, what they put into their search engine to find you. ClustrMaps (see picture far above) is a similar service which has the extra positive aspect of accumulating statistics – it does not throw away all the stats every day. However, ClustrMaps does not give you as much details as Blogflux mapstats, so it is up to you to decide.

There are of course countless additional tips, however, so far these have served me the best.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The God Delusion, part 8 – What’s wrong with religion? Why be so hostile

I do not think that religion is the only source of evil in this world. Humans have an instinct to form groups, and to amplify the differences between the in-group and the out-group. I am myself a fan of Manchester United, and for some weird reason I can get a little bit upset when someone criticize a player in the team or something similarly harmless. Now, I would never act on such feeling, however, there are fans or hooligans who in fact get into fights for such reasons, unbelievable as that may sound… I think that mankind will probably always find something to fight about, however, I also think that religion is the worst culprit of all when it comes to creating conflicts between groups. In chapter eight of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins addresses the very frequent question "what is wrong with religion"?

The danger of Islamic fundamentalism is obvious to most people. Last weekend I watched the movie United 93. Even though I have seen those planes fly into the world trade center thousands of times I still just cannot understand or accept that any human being can plan and execute such a deed which intentionally strikes against civilians, many of whom have had absolutely nothing to do with the miseries that the Muslim world has experienced. To take a plane full of civilians in great despair and then fly that plane right into a building with more such civilians is an act that must require a lot of faith. 9/11 was no zenith of terrorism. According to “The Religion of” Islamic terrorists have carried out more than 9500 deadly terror attacks since 9/11.

Islam is not the only religion with blood on its hands though. In Africa, countless massacres has been carried out in the name of Christianity. See for example Joseph Kony (see picture), proclaimed spirit medium and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

So where does religious extremism stem from, what causes it? I have not read any studies on this, and if someone could enlighten me then I would be grateful. However, I think it is beyond reasonable doubt that religion has to take part of the blame. In particular, the problem with almost all religions is that they teach the young that blind faith is a virtue. To doubt in God when there is no evidence is for some reason a horrible crime. As a consequence, religious people often cannot tell you what it would take for them to stop believing. This is one of the things that separates science and religion. Dawkins writes:

But my belief in evolution is not fundamentalism, and it is not faith, because I know what it would take to change my mind, and I would gladly do so if the necessary evidence were forthcoming.

There are well documented differences in peoples' tendency to be open minded. Some individuals are born with a taste for absolute rules and principles and a great dislike for grey-scale ethics and knowledge. One could add to the speculation above that if individuals of this kind, who score low on openness, is brought up in say a Christian family, then it is probable that this individual will become more extreme in his/her faith than the parents. Maybe, unlike the parents, the youngster decides that the bible must be read literally and then he read from the bible that “He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed” (Exodus 22.20), right there you have the birth of an extremist. Dawkins explains it perhaps more elegantly than me when he writes:

The teachings of 'moderate' religion, though not extremist in themselves are an open invitation to extremism.

The religious movement in the United States seems to have abandoned the founding fathers' ideal of a true secular state. The intelligent design movement tries to bring religion into the classroom, a goal which may become a problem for them since the creator is not specified. Meanwhile there are the so called pro-life politicians (ironically, the same politicians tends to be strong proponents of the death penalty), who want a ban on abortion for faith based reasons. The religious movement in America has culminated (I hope) in a group referred to by outsiders as The American Taliban. I can find no difference between their rhetoric and that of Osama Bin Laden. According to Ann Coulter:

"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war."

Anyways, the main problem with faith and the answer to the question "what is wrong with religion" is that it idealizes faith without evidence. It is really hard to argue with someone who merely says "this is what I believe, and nothing can change that". Such an attitude makes it impossible to have discussion that is of any use. I will end with the following quote from Bertrand Russell (see picture) (which can also be found in The God Delusion):

Many people would sooner die than think. In fact they do.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


It is of course true that we cannot know anything for certain. For all we know, we may be living in "The Matrix", and everything we see is mere computer simulations. Likewise, we can never know for sure that a theory is true in an objective sense. I consider these two statements as uncontroversial, however, when relativists go one step further and argue that all theories are equivalent since no theory can be proven, that is when I must disagree…

People who use this reasoning have completely forgotten about the concept of evidence and prediction. Though a theory can never be proven in the absolute sense it can be better or worse at describing reality. Just as simple example there are people who claim that the world is spherical (or almost spherical), and there are those who claim that it is flat (based on religious reasoning I might add). What predictions does each of these two theories make? Well, one very simple prediction is that a round earth should cast "round" or banana shaped shadows on the moon when the earth is between the sun and the moon. If the earth was flat on the other hand, the shadow should be flat as well. Everyone who has ever gone out to watch the moon knows that the round earth theory gives the more accurate prediction. We cannot know for certain that the earth is round, but the predictions it makes agree with what we see. When a prediction is correct we can call that evidence. My point is simply that people do not walk around and think that the earth being flat and the earth being round are two equivalent theories just because neither can be proven. Almost everyone believes that the earth is round because there is so much evidence in favor of that theory.

I have previously argued that in fact it does not really matter whether a theory is true in the objective sense. As long as a particular theory is very good at predicting the world as we see it, it is a good theory and we should simply act as if it was true. It is this mentality together with the scientific method, which reduces the risk of seeing evidence where there is none that has brought us to where we are today. Here it is important to remember that if a theory is true in the objective sense, then all predictions derived from that theory would have to be true as well.

Relativists also like to point fingers at the scientific method. One frequent argument that you hear from relativists is that throughout history there has been paradigm shifts in almost all sciences. In astronomy for example we have gone from the Copernican system, to the Newtonian, to Einstein's relativity. Furthermore they claim that these paradigm shifts occur, not because latter theories are more accurate, but due to cultural factors. Relativists who use this argument, first of all, forget that history is also a science. They are using evidence which has been produced using the scientific method – the very same method which they are criticizing. Clearly hypocritical...

Besides, it is clear to me that all shifts in astronomy have been progressive. The details of the various paradigm shifts may have been influenced by sociological factors, however, the main reason for all the shifts have been that they make better predictions. Newton's theory of gravitation gives a better description than Copernicus theory, and Einstein's theory of relativity make better predictions than Newton's theory. Old theories are exchanged with new ones when the new ones are better at describing the world as we perceive it.

This will be all I write about relativism for now, but check back later if you want to read more. For some reason I end up in discussions about relativism very often, and therefore I also have many thoughts on the subject. Many of the arguments that I present here have been influenced by this book (see picture above), which I recommend to everyone.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


A big step for me and a tiny step for humanity… I have recently come to realize that a significant event in my career has occurred. For the first time in my life I have been plagiarized! Even though I am supposed to be upset I actually feel a bit honored, I mean, someone actually thought my writing was so good that she pretended it was her own.

What is plagiarism? Plagiarism is one of the worst crimes you can do in academia. The term is taken from the Latin term Plagiare which means "to kidnap". Essentially you plagiarize someone when you take their idea, theory or text, and reproduce it as if it was your own idea, theory, or text. Someone who is caught expressing other peoples' view as their own without proper acknowledgement are usually punished with suspension or even termination of their job as well as a very bad reputation. Plagiarism indeed, is a big No No in academia.

It is of course not always that easy to tell whether you are plagiarizing something. Although I try to give acknowledgements to the people who inspire this blog, I am relatively sloppy when it comes to doing exhaustive explorations of the literature. Therefore it is possible that some of the ideas I express as my own have actually been thought up before by someone else. I do not do this on purpose however, and I see that as essential. I sometimes copy texts that Richard Dawkins have written, but when I do I write "Richard Dawkins says…". I try not to leave the reader with the impression that it is my thoughts.

When checking Technocrati last time was happy to see that my blog continues to generate reactions, that is after all one of my goals i.e. to get people to discuss things. However, on one blog written by a woman called Abida, my work was not cited, it was plagiarized, stolen without any reference, link, or acknowledgement whatsoever of my work. So what Abida did was not "accidental plagiarism". She wrote one paragraph about The God Delusion, and the she used ctrl+c and ctrl+v for the rest of the text. A rather embarrassing behavior I think, at least when it is discovered or written about on another blog…

Ps: If you happen to read this Abida, perhaps you can put in a tiny little reference in "your" review, and all will be forgotten, and not to forget, you can sleep well at night without fear of the eternal fire in that special place in hell designated to plagiarists J.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The God Delusion, Part 7 – The Good book and the changing moral zeitgeist

In chapter seven of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins attacks the book from which some Christians claim to get their moral code from, I am speaking of course about the Old Testament. However, Dawkins makes it clear that he is not criticizing the moral or conduct of Christians per say, rather, he argues that Christians, like other mortals in fact do not derive their morals from the bible…

"We pick and choose which bits of scripture to believe, which bits to write off as symbols or allegories. Such picking and choosing is a matter of personal decision, just as much, or as little, as the atheist's decision to follow this moral precept or that was a personal decision, without an absolute foundation."

That people "pick and choose" among the moral guidelines in the bible becomes extremely obvious when you take into account what is actually advocated in the Old Testament. I believe that not even fundamentalist a Christians would send his or her daughter into the hands of rapists and murders (see Judges 19:23-4). I also wonder how many fundamentalist Christians actually think that God is doing the right thing when he commands the stoning of a poor man who worked on the Sabbath!? And then again there are people who believe strongly in their own interpretation of the bible, and based on that interpretation they commit horrible crimes… Richard Dawkins writes:

"As the Nobel Prize-winning American physicist Steven Weinberg said, 'Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.' Blaise Pascal (he of the wager) said something similar: 'Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."

Criticizing the Old Testament is like shooting a dead elephant, not very difficult. To me it is quite incomprehensible how people today can believe literally everything that is written in the Old Testament. It is even more difficult for me to understand why someone would want to get their morals from this book. Luckily Yahweh's son(?) Jesus came along. I hope that those who believe that Richard Dawkins is a fundamentalist atheist who hits out at anything and everything associated with religion, will read the following quote carefully…

Well, there's no denying that, from a moral point of view, Jesus is a huge improvement over the cruel ogre of the Old Testament. Indeed Jesus, if he existed (or whoever wrote his script if he didn't) was surely one of the great ethical innovators of history. The Sermon on the Mount is way ahead of its time. His 'turn the other cheek' anticipated Gandhi and Martin Luther King by two thousand years. It was not for nothing that I wrote an article called 'Atheists for Jesus' (and was later delighted to be presented with a T-shirt bearing the legend).

I also see Jesus as a role model in more than one respect and I think his philosophy is good, albeit not perfect. I admire Jesus in the same way that I admire other philosophers such Bentham, Mill, Rawls and Kant. All these men have influenced the way I think about good and bad, but I don't think any of these men have THE ethical philosophy. Similarly, Jesus as he is described in the New Testament has many good ideas and thoughts, but he is not always an example to follow. Dawkins writes.

Jesus' family values, it has to be admitted, were not such as one might wish to focus on. He was short, to the point of brusqueness, with his own mother, and he encouraged his disciples to abandon their families to follow him. 'If any man come to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

Speaking about Jesus, I have also always asked myself why? Why did God have to incarnate himself, ridicule his incarnation, and then finally have him crucified just in order to forgive us? Why couldn't God, who is after all omnipotent and omniscient, just forgive our sins without going through all the trouble? I don't think I have ever gotten a straight answer to that question…

A couple a weeks ago I was asked the question which always pops up in discussions such as this one: What about Stalin and Hitler, they were atheists and they were evil!? Doesn't that mean that atheism makes people evil? No it doesn't. In my mind it is not important what a particular person or dictator believes. What matters to me is the behavior and actions of the person in question. Quite often a person's beliefs influence the behavior of the believer and then the beliefs becomes relevant. Religion I believe, in general, has a bad influence on people's behavior, in particular when we are talking about world leaders since they become more rigid and difficult to negotiate with. Atheism, I would argue, has no such effect on behavior. Hitler probably was religious (read the book if you want further justification of this point), but Joseph Stalin was certainly an atheist. Did atheism make Stalin commit his crimes, I believe not. Did his Islamic conviction make Osama Bin Laden commit his crimes, yes they probably did…

What matters is not whether Hitler and Stalin were atheists, but whether atheism systematically influences people to do bad things. There is not the smallest evidence that it does.