Do You know who is “Google PanDa” ?

Content quality comes up more and more in the SEO context. Focusing on content quality was the winning underutilised SEO tactic in our expert roundup, and low value content is one of the major causes of manual and algorithmic Google penalties, notably Google Panda.

Google Panda is a series of on-going algorithm updates and data refreshes for the Google search engine that the company rolls out to help refine its search algorithm to improve the value of search query results for users.

Panda is a special “filter” designed to de-rank low quality content, and since 2016, it’s a part of the search engine’s core ranking algorithm. This means that Panda updates are now rolled out faster and more frequently than ever before, with more sites affected by the update.

But the question is, what is “content quality”, exactly? How do you improve it, grow your rankings, and keep Panda away? Here are the 6 essential steps to audit your content against poor quality and fix the issues you find. But before we start.

How does Panda work?

The Panda algorithm (named after Google engineer Navneet Panda) is designed to help Google improve the quality of search results by down-ranking low quality content. The basic principle here is that Google assigns a particular quality score to each website in its index (the score is assigned site-wide, not to separate pages.)
Initially, Panda functioned as a filter applied to a pack of search results that Google considered relevant to a search query. The Panda score was re-ordering them, pushing down the low-scorers, and giving a boost to the highest scored content.
Now, as Panda signals are “baked” into Google’s core ranking algorithm, they no longer re-order the results, but form them together with Google’s other ranking signals.

How does Panda identify high quality content?

Sure thing, there’s no “gut feeling” that helps Panda identify real quality. Panda is only an algorithm that checks your website for a number of factors that Google assumes are features of a high quality website. Then, by applying some math, it gives the site a specific quality score based on the results of this check.

The good news is, if your site’s quality score is based on a number of separate factors, you can influence those factors to improve the score.

The bad news is… Google won’t disclose the exact quality factors it takes into account to calculate the score. So the list of Panda-prone issues below is an educated guess, based on what Google has said on site quality, and what trackable factors it can use to determine it.

6 steps to a Panda-proof content audit

So, we know that Panda is used to assign your website a particular score depending on its “quality” — now let’s think of the factors that may be involved in the assessment.

Step 1. Crawl your website to get a full list of its pages

Unsurprisingly, the first step in completing a content audit is to… find all your content.

And since the Panda score is assigned site-wide, it is not enough to audit just the most important pages — you need to check your entire site to make sure no low quality content is dragging your overall website quality score down.

How to check

  • Launch WebSite Auditor and create a new project for your website.
  • Enter your website’s URL and hit Next.
  • Now, give WebSite Auditor a couple of minutes (depending on the size of your website) to collect and list your site’s pages.
  • When the crawl is complete, switch to the Pages dashboard to view all your pages.

The optimal way to deal with problematic content largely depends on the size of your site.

  • For a small website (>100 pages), removing low quality content is something you can not afford. Your key strategy is to improve on every problematic page, rather than delete it.
  • For a medium-sized site (100-1000 pages), removing some of the low quality content is possible. But your main focus will be on improving content at least for the most important pages.
  • For a large website (>1000 pages), improving all problematic pages is a huge piece of work, so your focus would be to “weed out” and remove the unnecessary and low quality content.

Step 2. Check for thin content

Imagine you have a category page with only a few lines of meaningless text and hundreds of links to products. This is what’s generally called thin content. Google’s been focusing on combating thin content a lot lately, with both Panda and Fred.

Search engines use content to determine the relevancy of a page to a query. And if you barely provide any information that’s accessible to them, how are they to understand what the page is about?

How to check

1.In your WebSite Auditor workspace, locate the Word count column. If it’s not there, right-click on the header of any column to enter the workspace editing mode, and add the Word count column to your active columns.

2.Back to your WebSite Auditor workspace, sort the pages by their content length by clicking on the newly added Word count column.

Panda advice

Surely, quality is not all about word count, since there are cases when you can deliver value in a few hundred words. That is why there’s no “minimum word count” threshold that triggers a low Panda quality score. More to that, sometimes pages with a little over a hundred words do exceptionally well on Google and even get included into its rich answers.

But having too many thin content pages will very likely get you into trouble — so on average, word count under 250 words is a good indicator to locate problematic spots across your site.

Step 3. Check for duplicated/very similar content

Another factor that could be a signal of your site’s low quality is duplicated or very similar content across multiple pages.

How to check

1.In WebSite Auditor, switch to the Site Audit dashboard and locate the Duplicate titles and Duplicate meta descriptions factors under the On-page section.

2.If any of these have an Error status, click on the problematic factor to get a full list of pages where duplication occurs.

Panda advice

Very often, bigger sites have to deal with a huge amount of pages that need to be filled with content. And many of them resort to an easy way to fill out those gaps — by writing boilerplate text that’s the same on each page except for a few variables. This is what Google considers automated, low quality content.

So, besides weeding out the word-by-word duplicated content, pay attention to the similar-looking pieces (say, your page titles are absolutely identical in structure and differ only in a product name) that may be a sign of content automation.

Step 4. Check for aggregated content/plagiarism

What’s also synonymous with quality in Google’s eyes is the “uniqueness” of your content. As Google wants your content to add value and not simply repeat what’s already been said, having non-unique content on your website (e.g. plagiarized content, product descriptions duplicated in feeds used on other channels like Amazon, shopping comparison sites and eBay) is an easy way to get under Google’s Panda filter.

How to check

If you suspect that some of your pages may be duplicated externally on other online resources, a good idea would be to check them with Copyscape.

Copyscape gives some of its data for free (for instance, comparing two specific URLs), but for a comprehensive check you may need a paid Premium account.

Panda advice

Even though Google tries to identify the original source of content, experiments show that in many cases they are unable to tell the stolen content from the original.

So, to make sure content thieves don’t hurt your Panda quality score, take appropriate action if you notice someone’s using your content on their sites — either by contacting the webmaster to ask them to remove the copied content, or using this content removal form from Google.

Step 5. Check for proper keyword usage

Keywords and keyword targeting are the most basic and longest-running concepts in SEO. And if you’ve been in the search industry for quite some time, you may remember the days when SEO meant just having the right words in your meta keywords tag.

Sure, these times have passed: search engines now try to detect and punish websites deliberately using too many keywords in their content.

However, whether Google will admit it or not, their algorithms are still built upon keywords. And having a keyword in your title tag does improve your page’s rankings, meaning you simply can’t afford not optimizing pages for keywords.

So, the only ticklish question here is, “How many is too many?” And one of the ways to check this is by looking at top ranking competitors (because the sites that rank in top 10 are the sites that pass Google quality test with an A+.)

How to check

1. In your WebSite Auditor project, go to the Content Analysis module and select the page you’d like to analyze.

2. Enter the keywords you’ve been optimising this page for and let the tool analyse your page along with your top ranking competitors.

3. What you will see now is the average keyword usage stats, both on your page and competitors’ pages. Ideally, all content-related SEO factors should have a green Correct status. For any factors that don’t, click on them one by one and pay particular attention to the Keyword stuffing column.

4. If you’d like to go the extra mile and see how well your page is optimised for all topically relevant keywords (and not just the ones you specified), switch to the TF-IDF dashboard. Here, you’ll see the terms and phrases that your top ranking competitors commonly use in their content. Pay attention to the Recommendation column to find out which terms you may want to add or use less of.

5. Now switch to the Content Editor module to add or remove extra keywords and see your on-page stats recalculate for you as you type.

6. When you’re done, hit the Save button to save the optimized HTML to your computer, ready for upload to your site.

Panda advice

Remember the Hummingbird algorithm update? The one with which Google learned to recognize the meaning behind a search query and give a common answer to a number of “different-in-keywords” but “same-in-meaning” queries?

This update changed the way SEOs optimize pages — now we no longer think “single keyword optimization“, but try to make our pages comprehensive and relevant for a whole group of synonyms and related terms. So, utilizing synonyms and related terms will help you improve your pages’ relevance, rankings and avoid the keyword stuffing issues.

Step 6. Check for user engagement metrics

Though Google generally states that user experience signals are not included into their search ranking algorithm, real-life experiments show the opposite. And one of the metrics SEOs suspect Google to use is bounce rates.

Think about it — as Google tries to bring users the best search experience, it obviously wants them to find what they were looking for with the first search result they click on. The best search experience is one that immediately lands the searcher on a page that has all the information they need, so that they don’t hit the back button to return to the SERP and look for other alternatives.

Bouncing off pages quickly to return to the SERP and look for other results is called pogo-sticking, and it can be easily measured in terms of bounce rates.

How to check

1. In WebSite Auditor’s Pages dashboard, go the Traffic coming to pages tab.

2. Select all pages in this view, and hit Update Pages. From the list of factors to update, only select Page Traffic.

Panda advice

The thing to remember when analyzing your bounce rates is that “it’s all about user intent”. If the searcher is looking for a very quick answer (think “What’s the capital of Australia?”) — then, quite obviously, they will leave the page as soon as they get the information they need.

If the high-bounce pages you see on your site are of this kind — giving users the immediate answers they were looking for — then they are not something to worry about. In other cases, try to improve your content and user experience to lower the bounce rates.

Other Things To Consider:

1. Check for user-generated content issues.
User-generated content and how it affects Panda has been a hot topic recently, and it has gotten to the point where many SEOs are recommending to get rid of all user-generated content, claiming that Google sees it as a signal of poor site quality.

This is far from true, because we’re still seeing lots of websites based purely on user-generated content (think Quora) that are doing well on Google.

However, user-generated spam — for instance, irrelevant comments on your blog or poorly moderated forum pages — can put your site into trouble.

So if your website features user-generated content, make sure improving your moderation strategy is a priority.

2. Check for grammar mistakes.
Bad spelling and grammar can both impede user experience and lower the trustworthiness of your content in Google’s eyes, so don’t tempt the fate by leaving obvious grammar errors on your pages. You may want to use a specialized grammar tool like Grammarly, or simply copy your pages’ content and paste it into a word processor. This should highlight the spelling mistakes so you can update the content.

3. Check for intrusive ads.
Sure thing, Panda is not the reason to stop using ads on your site. As long as your ads don’t get obtrusive, that is. Not only do excessive and disruptive ads (pop-ups, above-the-fold ads, and so on) annoy visitors, they apparently get on Google’s nerves just as well. Remember, this kind of advertisements can also trigger the Fred update — another reason to say no to intrusive ads.

Want to learn Digital Marketing?

15 Minutes of Fame

Google Analytics sent me an automated mail telling me that this blog had 1.7k visitors last month. That is less than I used to get in a single day a decade ago. The good news for Google / Blogger is that I don’t blame them for the decline, and won’t be showing up at their HQ with a gun. I am pretty certain that the loss of readers can be explained by the following factors:

  • I am writing much less now, 1-2 posts per week instead of per day.
  • I am not writing about a single topic, MMORPGs, any more, but about a variety of different things, which interest different people.
  • The original MMORPG topic of my blog isn’t of great interest any more.
  • Blogging, and hanging out on blogs, isn’t the medium of choice any more.

So basically I had my 15 minutes of fame, with highlights like being invited to a Blizzcon with a press pass around my neck and allowed to interview a Blizzard developer. Or getting free “review copies” of games (all of them disclosed on the blog) and stuff. I even got a few hundred dollars as donations over the years.

Blogging never was more than a hobby to me, it was obvious that quitting my day job for internet fame would have been an extremely bad idea. And then I am part of a generation that still believes that they are responsible for their own success or failure. My impression of younger generations is that they more often believe that success is owed to them, and that any of their failures must be due to evil acts from others. Now combine that with the fact that a YouTuber today can be a *lot* more famous than a blogger from a decade ago, and make a lot more money; and then you get closer to understanding why somebody might take a decline of internet fame so serious that she starts shooting people.

The internet has dramatically lowered the barrier of entry to self-publication and possibly fame. But that isn’t just true for you, it is true for everybody else as well. Thus fame is getting more and more fickle and short-lived. Being “internet famous” can be fun, but it appears that it can also be dangerous.

The One Scenario in Which Trump Would Risk Impeachment and Fire Robert Mueller

The president reportedly expects to be exonerated soon.

President Donald Trump believes that special counsel Robert Mueller will soon send him a letter that completely exonerates him of any wrongdoing — but the president’s allies fear that such a letter will never come.

CNN reports that Trump has recently been boasting to allies that the Russia probe will be over very shortly, and that Mueller will personally exonerate him. The president believes this, CNN’s sources say, because his attorneys have tried to manage him by telling him that he faces no real danger from the probe.

However, some of the president’s allies believe this is delusional, wishful thinking — and they fear what Trump will do if that exoneration letter never comes.

One Trump ally tells CNN that the president will likely have a “meltdown” after months go by without an exoneration letter, after which “he’ll try and fire Mueller and then be impeached.”

Another Trump ally similarly warns that Trump’s lawyers are playing a dangerous game by buttering him up with happy talk about the Mueller probe ending shortly.

“I’ve known him long enough to know that disappointing him is a problem and they’ve built up a level of expectations for him that are unrealistic,” the source said. “[They’ve] lulled him into a false sense of security.”

 

 

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Group Known for Stalking and Harassing Climate Advocates Has Been Hired by EPA to Run Media War Room

Definers Public Affairs, a Republican-aligned research group, has been handed a $120,000 contract to help the EPA shape its media coverage.

A Republican-aligned research group with links to a campaign to stalk and intimidate environmental groups, journalists and campaigners has been handed a $120,000 contract to help the EPA shape its media coverage.

Virginia-based Definers Public Affairs was given the 12-month “no bid” contract to provide “news analysis and brief service” to the EPA, as reported by Mother Jones.

Definers is the corporate arm of America Rising LLC, America Rising PAC and its opposition research and tracking service, America Rising Squared—known as AR2.

Republican Activists

Definers Public Affairs was founded and launched in 2015 by America Rising founders Matt Rhoades and Joe Pounder.

Pounder is a Republican strategist and former research director for the Republican National Committee and worked on Marco Rubio’s failed 2016 nomination campaign. Rhoades was Mitt Romney’s campaign manager in 2012.

Green Attack Plan 

America Rising ran a concerted campaign to attack environmentalists and targeted individuals such as climate campaigner Bill McKibben, who was followed and filmed by the group’s trackers. 

Others targeted with attack tactics and adverts include billionaire philanthropist and environmentalist Tom Steyer and New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer, whose work has uncovered the influences of petrochemical billionaires and Republican donors Charles and David Koch.

Brian Rogers, an executive director at AR2 and a senior vice president at Definers, said his campaign would “hold Steyer and the Environmentalist Left accountable for their epic hypocrisy and extreme positions which threaten America’s future prosperity.”

Speaking about the accusations leveled at him, Steyer said: “They have to know they’re lying. It’s completely dishonest, unethical, and pitiful. And it’s creepy.”

America Rising attempted to discredit Mayer by alleging a distant relative that worked for Lehmann Brothers once did business with Nazi Germany—an accusation that was shown to be without any evidence.

One of the group’s earliest targets was 350.org founder McKibben, who wrote about his experience in the New York Times.  Describing the photos and videos taken of him, McKibben wrote:

“In one series, my groceries are being packed into plastic bags, as I’d forgotten to bring cloth ones. In other shots, I am getting in and out of … cars. There are video snippets of me giving talks, or standing on the street. Sometimes I see the cameraman, sometimes I don’t. The images are often posted to Twitter, reminders that I’m being watched.”

America Rising also sent an operative to Texas Tech University to request copies of everything in the 54 boxes that make up an archive of McKibben’s papers. This, said McKibben, “resulted in all kinds of odd things appearing on right-wing corners of the web.”

Global War Room

An EPA spokesperson told Mother Jones the Definers contract was “for media monitoring/newsclip compilation.”

According to Mother Jones, the contract would include EPA using the Definers War Room console that helps clients track media coverage and the output of opponents.

In November 2017, it was announced that Definers had joined law firm Denton’s to launch a global research firm called 3D Global Affairs.

Among the services offered at 3D Global Affairs would be “governmental relations and lobbying support to shape the environment” and “communications and rapid response professionals to direct  the narrative.”

 

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Trump Reportedly Considered Rescinding Neil Gorsuch Nomination Because He Wasn’t ‘Loyal’

The president was allegedly placated by a complimentary note from the judge.

President Donald Trump privately discussed his frustrations with Neil Gorsuch, his Supreme Court nominee, earlier this year amid worries that he wasn’t “loyal” enough to the president.

As The Washington Post reported Monday night, Trump “was upset that [then-nominee] Gorsuch had pointedly distanced himself from the president in a private February meeting with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT),” claiming he was “worried that Gorsuch would not be ‘loyal.’”

In the private meeting with the Connecticut Democrat, Gorsuch called Trump’s first travel ban “demoralizing” and “disheartening.”

According to several Post sources familiar with the conversations, Trump floated the idea of rescinding Gorsuch’s nomination over the slight, though it’s unclear his “explosion” was mere venting or was discussed as a genuine prospect.

Nevertheless, “at the time, some in the White House and on Capitol Hill feared that Gorsuch’s confirmation — which had been shaping up to be one of the clearest triumph’s of Trump’s tumultuous young presidency — was on the verge of going awry,” the report continued.

Gorsuch’s confirmation and short tenure in the Supreme Court has been touted by the president as one of his greatest achievements since taking office in January.

According to 11 sources within the White House or familiar with the discussion, “Trump was especially upset by what he viewed as Gorsuch’s insufficient gratitude for a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court.” Shortly after his interview with Blumenthal, Gorsuch sent the president a handwritten note thanking him.

“Your address to Congress was magnificent,” Gorsuch wrote to the president in a note obtained by the Post. “And you were so kind to recognize Mrs. [Maureen] Scalia [widow of the late Justice Antonin Scalia], remember the justice, and mention me. My teenage daughters were cheering the TV!”

Upon receiving the note, the president was placated, the report continued.

“As head of legislative affairs, our team was in charge of his nomination, and never did I view his nomination in jeopardy, nor did the president ever suggest to me that he wanted to pull him,” Marc Short, the White House’s director of legislative affairs and assistant to the president, told the Post. “The process obviously caused frustration, but that frustration was compounded by the fact that Gorsuch had sent him a personal letter that he never received.”

As Bloomberg’s Steven Dennis noted on Twitter after the Post published their story, Trump’s concerns that Gorsuch would not be “loyal” to him are misplaced given that judges and other federal law enforcement officials take oaths to uphold the constitution rather than the presidency. The story, Dennis continued, is reminiscent of Trump’s request that former FBI Director James Comey swear loyalty to him — the denial of which led to his firing.

 

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What is Ethereum? — a short guide

What is Ethereum EthereumPrice

You may be asking yourself, “What is Ethereum?” Well, Vitalik Buterin, a Canadian programmer born in Russia, invented Ethereum in 2015 by. It’s a cryptocurrency much like Bitcoin that allows you to make payments online. It’s decentralized, offers low transaction fees, and runs on a publicly disclosed blockchain that records each transaction.

Read: What is a blockchain? – Gary Explains

Ethereum’s currency is called Ether and is currently the second largest in the world in market cap, behind Bitcoin. There are reportedly around two million wallets that hold it, up from 1.6 million in May — showing the growing popularity of Ether.

How is it different from Bitcoin? Bitcoin aims to become a globally adopted currency that could improve or even replace conventional money. Ethereum, on the other hand, is more than a cryptocurrency. It’s also a ledger technology used to build decentralized applications (dapps) with smart contracts.

What are smart contracts?

Wikimedia

Smart contracts are programs that automatically execute exactly as they are set up by their creators. Their purpose is to offer more security by removing the middlemen that we would otherwise have to use. Confused? Let’s take a look at a simple example.

Let’s say you want to ship a large gift to your friend and hire a trucker to do the job. For the trucker to know you’ll pay him, and for you to be sure the delivery will be made, you both sign an agreement for shared peace of mind. This takes time and can be expensive, as you need someone who will draw up the paperwork for you, and so forth.

This process can be simplified with a smart contract. You make the payment the day the package is picked up, and the smart contract will automatically transfer the money to the trucker as soon as your friend confirms the delivery has been made.

How is Ether created and where can I get it?

CoinSpectator

Like Bitcoins, Ethers are created through a process called mining. This requires expensive and specialized computers that have to perform complicated calculations. Mining is mainly done by large companies that are compensated for their work with newly minted Ethers.

Editor’s Pick

Unfortunately, you won’t make any money by mining with your personal PC, even if it’s a high-end model. So how can you get your hands on Ethers? You can earn them by providing goods and services to people who can pay you with the digital currency. The second option is to buy them from a marketplace like Coinbase with your credit card.

The Ethers you own are stored in a wallet secured with a private key. You can keep it in the cloud or offline, with the latter being a much safer option. The important thing is that you don’t lose the private key. If that happens, you won’t be able to access your money.

How much does it cost and what determines the price?

Crypto-News

Now that we have figured out the answer to the “What is Ethereum?” question, how much do Ethers really cost? Ethers were cheap when introduced back in 2015 — you could get one for less than a dollar. Their price has risen over the years and currently stands at around $430 each (exact value can be found in widget below). The sharp increase means Ethers can be a great investment, same as Bitcoins and many other cryptocurrencies. For example, if you bought $1,000 worth of Ethers in 2015 when they were worth $0.50 a piece, you would have $860,000 today.

Before you get too excited, keep in mind that investing in cryptocurrencies can be risky.

Before you get too excited, sell your house, and buy as many Ethers as you can get, let me remind you that investing in cryptocurrencies can be risky. Sure, a lot of them have increased in value in recent years, but that doesn’t mean this trend will continue. Cryptocurrencies are volatile, meaning their price can go up and down significantly in a single day. This makes them less stable than standard currencies like the dollar and euro.

How exactly do we determine their value? Like Bitcoins, gold, oranges, and every other item available on the market, supply and demand determine the price of Ethers.

The Merkle


Ethereum can be hard to understand at times. The same goes for Bitcoins and the rest of the cryptocurrencies available. But the fact is that they’re here to stay and might become a more important part of our daily lives in the future.

Many experts believe Ethereum has a lot of potential and could overtake Bitcoin as the largest cryptocurrency somewhere down the line. This is all speculation, though well within the realm of possibility. But like with stocks, gold, and other investments, no one can be 100 percent sure in which direction the price will move.

Hopefully we have given you an answer to the “What is Ethereum?” question. What are your thoughts on Ethereum and cryptocurrencies in general? Let us know in the comments.

Gardmore Abbey 5E rerun – Session 1

I ran the 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey back in 2013/2014 and consider it to be the best official 4E adventure. So now I am running it again in a 5E version with different players. I’m not going to write a blow-by-blow journal on this one, but I do want to write down an outline of what happened and my thoughts on it.

In the first session the players started in Winterhaven, where they learned that the card of the Deck of Many Things they had found was one of a set. Lord Padraig of Winterhaven has at least one other card, and is interested in the full deck in order to defend his town. So he told the group about Gardmore Abbey, where most of the cards apparently are scattered, and asks them at the same time to scout the layout and number of orcs there. The players manage to get more information about the abbey from the library of the mage Arris, from Lord Padraig’s counselor Valthrun, and from a bard singing ballads about the place in the inn. Lord Padraig also provided the group with a squire and horses for faster travel between Winterhaven and the abbey.

At the abbey I gave the players a picture of a front view of Gardmore Abbey. And after the scouted the outside of the abbey a bit more, I gave them my player map of Gardmore Abbey. Now the principle of the adventure and the map is that the players can approach the abbey from any side they want: Frontal assault on the main gate, climbing the wall to the north of the gate, going through a hole in the wall to the south of the gate, or try to get up the hill from the un-walled back side. From all the groups I’ve read on the internet having played the adventure none ever choose the frontal assault on the main gate. In reality the main gate isn’t all that heavily guarded, but a frontal assault on a large army of orcs just doesn’t appear to be a good idea.

So this group went through the hole in the south wall. From there they could go to the watchtower, or straight up the hill through a fey forest, or north along the wall back towards the orc main keep. They first tried the watchtower as a probably vantage point, where they saw some weird scenes from back in time through the windows. They decided not to pursue that further, still didn’t want to move towards the orcs, and thus went up the hill through the fey forest, in order to get a view from the top.

So they came across a magical fountain where a group of high elves was camped. The elves were mistrustful, but not hostile. Their leader Berrian Velfarren told the adventurers that he was here in search of traces of his father, who disappeared centuries ago. He also believed that there were documents somewhere giving the elves some claim on the fey forest. And his sister Analastra had gone missing. After receiving some visions from the magical spring, the group followed the path further up the hill. They came across the groundskeeper’s cottage, where they fought the owlbears now inhabiting it and found the documents the elves were looking for. Then the came to the garden behind the main keep, where another group of rival adventurers were fighting spiders. Trying to help them resulted in the rival adventurers disengaging and leaving the heroes with the spiders. But they did found a sword they had heard about in a ballad about a lost paladin.

Further up the path the group came across some nymphs playing a game of telling each other secrets, and learned some of the secrets of the abbey, including the fact that the missing father had last been seen in the watchtower. Then they came to a bell tower, where Analastra was fighting two displacer beasts and a nest of stirges. The highlight of that fight was the druid keeping Analastra alive with healing words, while using a Call Lightning spell to damage the displacer beasts and eliminating the nest of stirges. Having rescued the sister, the group returned to the elves to rest there.

As they had already finished two of the three quests of the elves, and Berrian had promised them his card of the Deck of Many Things for finishing all three, the group headed to the watchtower next. The elves had said that they couldn’t find an entrance to it. But after some experimentation it turned out that the group’s card opened the door. But stepping inside the group was trapped in some extra-dimensional space connected to the Far Realm, a plane of chaos. In the first room they fought a black pudding (who destroyed the druid’s armor) and two mimics, who had been disguised as cards forming a bridge. After that fight we stopped because it was getting late. But having finished encounters 13, 12, 9, 10, 11, and 14 of the adventure was good progress, 6 encounters out of 33.

On the combat side the encounters were tough, which was mostly because of two players missing from the group of five. Next session we should be up to 4 players, which will be easier. But I didn’t have to cheat or remove monsters, the adventure was still doable with just 3 players of level 5. They earned about 40% of the xp needed towards level 6, so I think that by the end of the adventure they will be at least level 7, if not 8. However I don’t really have a good follow-up adventure for level 8 characters in store, as all of the official 5E adventures start at low level. Except for the Rise of Tiamat, but that one is the second part of a story that starts with Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

Xiaomi’s Mi A1 Special Edition in Red is coming to India (updated)

Update (12/19/17): The gorgeous Xiaomi Mi A1 Special Edition is officially coming to India. Beginning December 20, customers will have the chance to order the Red version of the Mi A1 from Mi.com and Flipkart’s online store. Additionally, the device will be available from Mi Home stores, Mi preferred partner stores, and other retail partners. The device will run customers Rs. 13,999.

December 20 is also the start of Xiaomi’s “No. 1 Fan Sale” in the country. Xiaomi is celebrating its fans with sales on phones like the Xiaomi Mi MIX 2, Mi Max 2, Redmi 4, Redmi Note 4, and Redmi Y1 Lite. The Mi MIX 2 will see a price drop from Rs. 35,999 to Rs. 32,999, while the Mi Max 2 will drop from Rs. 14,999 to Rs. 12,999. The Redmi 4 gets a Rs. 1,000 discount, while pricing details for the Redmi Note 4 and Redmi Y1 Lite have yet to be released yet.

You can get check out all of the deals on Mi.com starting December 20.


Original article (12/14/17): It seems like red has caught on as a color of choice for smartphones, since OnePlus and Samsung have red versions of their flagship smartphones. Whether it’s because of that, or whether it’s because it’s the season for such a color, Xiaomi has joined the fray with the Mi A1 Special Edition.

Don’t let the name fool you; the only thing special about the Mi A1 Special Edition is the red color it comes in. That being said, the shade of red looks much less like Samsung’s Burgundy Red and more like OnePlus’ Lava Red, with the color choice meant to stand out than be more subtle.

Either way, it comes across as vibrant and stunning, with the added red color meaning that the Mi A1 is now available in four colors.

Elsewhere, the Mi A1 Special Edition remains identical to the normal Mi A1. In other words, you’ll find a 5.5-inch Full HD display, with a 5 MP camera up front and dual 12 MP cameras around back. Under the hood, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625 chipset and 4 GB of RAM power the phone, and while the processor might be a bit long in the tooth at this point, it allows for greater battery efficiency.

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That efficiency is what helps give the Mi A1 very good battery life in our testing, regardless of the modest 3,080 mAh battery. If the 64 GB of internal storage is not enough for your needs, the microSD card slot allows for up to 128 GB of additional storage.

Finally, the Mi A1’s story revolves around its status as one of the handful of Android One devices out there, which means that the phone runs stock Android 7.1.2 Nougat. That makes the phone the only Xiaomi smartphone that runs stock Android out of the box, something that slightly disoriented us at first but that we eventually got used to.

According to GizmoChina, which spotted the phone, the Mi A1 Special Edition is currently available in Indonesia for 3.099.000 rupiahs, which translate to roughly $228. There is no word if the phone will be available in other markets, though we’ll keep an eye out if it does.

3D printing larger objects

Since I bought my 3D printer I have printed hundreds of miniatures for my Dungeons & Dragons game. The miniatures are in a classic 1 inch = 5 feet that is 1:60 scale. So a typical medium sized miniature has a 25 mm base and is around 28 mm tall. As I have written earlier, the main problem of printing objects that size is that printing anything less than 1 mm thick tends to fail, so I had to “fatten” some miniatures or give them oversized weapons to work. Now that I have a good selection of miniatures, I am more often printing larger objects, and the challenges are different.

Now “larger objects” on my 3D printer are limited to 150 mm in any dimension due to the size of the printer itself. Over the last month I printed several objects that were at or close to that limit: Two dice towers, a hinged box, a card tray and two card holders for the 7th Continent, and JoyCon holders for the Nintendo Switch. Apart from the box, which was more of a tech demo to show that you can print a hinged object in one piece, the other objects would be either hard to get anywhere, or be much more expensive. Thus there is some utility to printing these larger objects yourself. The 3D printer also automatically makes items hollow, filled with some honeycomb structure, so a bulky 3D printed object is quite lightweight.

While with larger objects there are no more problems with too thin parts, the main downside of these objects is that the uneven surface is far more prominent. If you are used to holding plastic items in your hand which have a smooth and shiny surface, the 3D printed objects are notably different. Along the Z-axis the layer structure is very visible. And on inner surfaces where the printer had to move across empty space to get to the other side of the object there are irregular imperfections. To some extent you can clean the object up using a sanding sponge. But unless you want to spend hours sanding the object will never be totally smooth and shiny like a commercial injection-molded item.

I still don’t believe in a future where we all just 3D print everything we need instead of buying mass-produced items. However there are a few niche applications where a 3D printer can produce a larger object of some use.

12 Most Insane Rules From the Biggest Neo-Nazi Website on the Internet

White supremacist style guides are…different.

The Daily Stormer is an online hub for racists, white nationalists, anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, and other assorted angry white men. It’s run by Andrew Anglin, who’s been in hiding for months avoiding an SPLC lawsuit charging stochastic terrorism against a Jewish woman in Montana. (Even underground, Anglin has managed to pull in a healthy sum in donations from supporters.) Among the confirmed readers of Anglin’s site are Dylann Roof, who in 2015 murdered nine black parishioners in a South Carolina church, and James Harris Jackson, who murdered a black man in New York City using a sword last March.

HuffPost writer Ashley Feinberg recently got a bit more insight behind the curtain of Anglin’s operation via the site’s 17-page style guide for contributing writers. The document lays out a few standard rules and protocols, from good HTML practices to proper grammar dictates, as well as a few rules that apply only to racist bloggers. The guide is packed with writerly advice on how to promote Anglin’s goals, which begin with expanding readership and end with an all-out race war. The key, per Anglin, is to maintain the site’s veneer of “non-ironic Nazism masquerading as ironic Nazism.”

Here are 12 of the most insane pieces of advice from the biggest neo-Nazi website on the internet.

1. Always blame the Jews.

Anglin writes that the Daily Stormer is “designed to spread the message of nationalism and anti-Semitism to the masses.” To that end, he notes that authors’ “prime directive” is singular: “Always Blame the Jews for Everything.”

“As Hitler says, people will become confused and disheartened if they feel there are multiple enemies. As such, all enemies should be combined into one enemy, which is the Jews. This is pretty much objectively true anyway, but we want to leave out any and all nuance. So no blaming Enlightenment thought, pathological altruism, technology/urbanization, etc. just blame Jews for everything.”

Anglin goes on to assert that Jews should be blamed “for the behavior of other nonwhites” as well as white women. “Women should be attacked, but there should always be mention that if it wasn’t for the Jews, they would be acting normally.”

2. Go easy on the swear words, heavy on the racial slurs.

Contributors are discouraged from “an overuse of profanity” which “can come across as goofy.” But Anglin recommends liberal use of racial epithets, and even offers a helpful list of specific “allowed and advisable” slurs.

•Negro/Negroid
•Monkey
•Ape
•Spic
•Wetback
•Beaner
•Beanperson
•Kike
•Yid
•Sheeny
•Christ-killer
•Haji
•Sandperson
•Paki (can be used for non-Pakistani Moslems, especially Arabs, because that’s funny)
•Muzzie
•Chink
•Gook
•Zipperhead
And others

Anglin adds that while the n-word is also cool, it “shouldn’t be used constantly.” Let spontaneity be your guide, he seems to suggest. Keep people guessing about what new and disgusting way you’ll express your racist self!

3. Demean women, gays, black folks and, of course, the Jews every chance you get.

Anglin shares that “[f]*ggots can be called all the words for f*ggot,” though scatological references are frowned upon. He gives a specific list of words recommended for describing women, and the word “woman” doesn’t appear on it once. Instead, it features “slut,” “whore,” “bitch,” “harlot,” “trollop,” “slag,” and “skag.”

This is yet another moment when Anglin slips in a reminder to writers to shoehorn in more anti-Semitism amidst the misogyny. “Whenever writing about women,” Anglin requests, “make sure to follow the prime directive and blame Jew feminism for their behavior.”

4. But also, be sure to keep things fun and funny so people want to join the…clan!

The most insidious aspect of Anglin’s style guide is its repeated insistence on a stealth recruitment strategy that relies on humor and lightheartedness to get young white readers excited about white nationalism. He repeatedly admonishes writers to cool it with the super angry racist diatribes that might scare newbies off. Instead, he suggests, authors should infuse their racism with lots of jokes, like the hipster racism of Vice circa 2003. (Ironically, in this same document, Anglin trashes Vice co-founder and hipster-racism aficionado Gavin McInnes as a “bottomless bucket of lulz.”)

“While racial slurs are allowed/recommended, not every reference to non-white should not be a slur and their use should be based on the tone of the article. Generally, when using racial slurs, it should come across as half-joking—like a racist joke that everyone laughs at because it’s true. This follows the generally light tone of the site.”

Here’s the key, though: “It should not come across as genuine raging vitriol. That is a turnoff to the overwhelming majority of people.”

Anglin reaffirms that the goal is to lure new readers, and potential new adherents to the alt-right’s racist agenda, above all. And the way to do that is by dressing the message up in internet memes and provocative jokes, and then to drive the (racist) point home over and over again.

“[T]hough we do mean to keep readers who are already in the know informed and entertained, it should always be considered that the target audience is people who are just becoming aware of this type of thinking,” Anglin writes. “The goal is to continually repeat the same points, over and over and over and over again. The reader is at first drawn in by curiosity or the naughty humor, and is slowly awakened to reality by repeatedly reading the same points.”

You know how you can end up knowing the words to a song you hate if you hear it enough on the radio? Repetition works. And Anglin’s betting that his writers can beat the audience over the head with their message until it’s gotten inside their heads.

5. Again, avoid overt hatred, despite the fact that it’s precisely what you’re peddling.

“Most people are not comfortable with material that comes across as vitriolic, raging, non-ironic hatred,” Anglin restates in another section of the document. “The unindoctrinated should not be able to tell if we are joking or not. There should also be a conscious awareness of mocking stereotypes of hateful racists. I usually think of this as self deprecating humor—I am a racist making fun of stereotype of racists, because I don’t take myself super-seriously.”

He adds, “There should be a conscious agenda to dehumanize the enemy, to the point where people are ready to laugh at their deaths. So it isn’t clear that we are doing this—as that would be a turnoff to most normal people—we rely on lulz.”

To put a very fine, super ugly point on it: “This is obviously a ploy and I actually do want to gas kikes. But that’s neither here nor there.”

6. Quote liberally from mainstream media sources to borrow their validity and authority.

Anglin urges writers to recycle “large parts” from articles in mainstream news outlets as a way to siphon legitimacy toward his own site. The idea is to do a good enough job of combining verifiable facts with nonsense racist propaganda that the two start to blend together.

“Being able to see the mainstream source quoted allows us to co-opt the perceived authority of the mainstream media,” Anglin writes, “and not look like one of those sites we are all probably familiar with where you are never certain if what they are saying has been confirmed.”

7. Note the media outlets covertly helping us do our dirty work.

While suggesting that writers find concise versions of real news stories to incorporate into their posts, Anglin notes that two news outlets seems to share a similar worldview.

“RT and Breitbart have the benefit of being closer to our own spin on many issues,” Anglin writes, “meaning….they are more likely to include points of interest.”

8. Take inspiration from—who else?—Adolf Hitler!

A quote from Anglin, without commentary: “The basic propaganda doctrine of the site is based on Hitler’s doctrine of war propaganda outlined in Mein Kampf, Volume I, Chapter VI. If you have not read this, please do so immediately.”

9. By all means, stir up the anger and rage of violent racist readers, but do it in a way that ensures we can feign innocence in court.

As he notes in a section titled “Violence,” Anglin is well aware that “It’s illegal to promote violence on the internet.” But as someone holding out hope that the U.S. will break out into a wide-scale race war, he’s dedicated to surreptitiously urging violent attacks by his racist followers en masse.

If you’re writing about some enemy Jew/feminist/etc., link their social media accounts,” Anglin advises writers for his site. “Twitter especially. We’ve gotten press attention before when I didn’t even call for someone to be trolled but just linked them and people went and did it.”

He also suggests that “it’s totally important to normalize the acceptance of violence as an eventuality/inevitability.” So murderous racists like Dylann Roof and Anders Breivik are hailed as heroes using language so over-the-top it borders on comical.

“This is great because people think you must be joking,” Anglin cynically notes. “But there is a part of their brain that doesn’t think that…[E]ven when a person can say to themselves ‘this is ridiculous,’ they are still affected by it on an emotional level. Whether they like it or not.”

10. Use popular culture as a vehicle for the white nationalist message.

People like what they know, and so Anglin aims to replicate recognizable and widely known media to engage readers in a way they understand. Early on in the style guide, Anglin admits that the Daily Stormer “is in many ways modeled off of successful liberal blogs such as Gawker.” (Anglin has reportedly previously cited Vice and Infowars.) He recommends writers fill their posts with “pop culture gifs of the style that Buzzfeed uses.”

But beyond just mirroring cultural digital ephemera, Anglin suggests that writers subvert—or rather, “hijack”—popular memes to give them a racist twist.

“Cultural references and attachment of entertainment culture to Nazi concepts have the psychological purpose of removing it from the void of weirdness that it would naturally exist in, due to the way it has been dealt with by the culture thus far, and making it a part of the reader’s world. Through this method we are also able to use the existing culture to transmit our own ideas and agenda.”

The site got lots of attention when it dubbed Taylor Swift an “Aryan Goddess” and suggested the singer is “a secret Nazi.” (For the record, Swift tried to sue a blogger who essentially demanded she disavow the alt-right, at least until the ACLU intervened on the blogger’s behalf. Conversely, Swift has never threatened to sue an actual white nationalist for claiming she supports their cause.)

Anglin also notes he turned 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” into an anti-immigrant song, because racists are lazy, garbage culture vultures who steal black people’s stuff while complaining about the browning of America.  

11. There’s no such thing as bad press.

Remember how stoked the alt-right was when presidential candidate Hillary Clinton gave a speech about how awful they were? That’s because you can’t shame a movement bereft of morals and principles from jump. Also, because the alt-right’s unofficial motto is “there’s no such thing as bad press.”

“We should always be on the lookout for any opportunity to grab media attention,” Anglin affirms. “It’s all good. No matter what.”

12. Even the payment system is a ‘jokey’ homage to Hitler.

Feinberg found that neo-Nazi hacker Andrew Auernheimer, who also serves as systems administrator for the Daily Stormer, recently shared this information with a group of prospective contributors: “[O]kay basically, it works like this, you can write articles, if we dont like them you can put them on your own blog or whatever, if we accept them for publication we will pay you $14.88.”

1488 is a popular number among white supremacists and other garden-variety racists. Fourteen is a reference to the “14 words,” a racist slogan favored by white nationalists and the like. Two eights—the eighth letter of the alphabet—stands for HH, as in Heil Hitler. (During the 2016 presidential election, a PBS docu-special happened to catch an enthusiastic Trump supporter’s gigantic “88” hand tattoo.)

 

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