Monthly Archives: March 2009

Twitter: Smiffy’s Rules of Following


Despite my initial reservations, I cannot deny the value of Twitter as both a (social/professional) networking tool and a source of news/information.

Like fire and electricity, Twitter presents hazards if untamed; follow too many and/or indiscriminately, we risk information overload and excessive, unproductive, use of time. If we use Twitter purely as a means of socialisation and have time to spare (dare I say waste?) this may not be an issue. As a professional tool, however, our Twitter usage needs careful management.

This article outlines some of the Rules of Following I use to manage my Twitter usage. Note that these rules are constantly evolving as they must – because the medium itself is evolving as more people use it and patterns of usage change.

Value and SNR

In my use of Twitter, I strive to gain data of the greatest value and highest Signal-To-Noise Ratio (SNR).

I estimate the value of data based on whether it:

  • Provides me with data relevant to my profession.
  • Improves communication with my existing ‘tribe’ (clients, vendors, peers).
  • Allows me to expand my tribe.
  • Stimulates me by making me feel interested or just generally good without excessive distraction. (Makes me more productive rather than less productive.)

Follow Your Tribe

As a rule, I don’t go out of my way to find people to follow on Twitter. The exception to this is members of my current tribe, which includes both those with whom I already communicate and also those whom I know through mailing lists and bodies such as the Web Access Initiative and the Guild of Accessible Web Designers (GAWDS). I feel that these followings have already strengthened ties with several members of my tribe.

Follow Your Followers?

Unless you have some specific need (like you are doing some form of research,) I would advise that blindly following all who follow you is not a good idea.

When I receive a notification that “So-and-so is now following you on Twitter!” I will visit that person’s profile page (assuming that it is a person and not a ‘bot) and perform an evaluation before deciding to follow, ignore or block that person (or ‘bot.)

Evaluating a Profile

Until such time as there is a means of producing an accessible flow-chart in a web page, I will try to describe in words how I evaluate a follower from their profile.

  1. Do I know this person?
  2. Is this someone with whom I might want to network?
  3. Does this person provide data I might find valuable?

If the answer to any of these is ‘yes’, I will follow them. Other than the first point, I will attempt to assign a value score based on their profile. Given a high enough score, I will follow. If the value appears to be low, I will ignore. If this looks like a spammer or similar low-life, I will block.

  • Is the profile filled in? (Positive score.)
  • Are there any updates? (If no, negative score unless just joined.)
  • Are there a vast number of updates every day? (Probable zero score and ignore – too much information is too much time spent wading through it.)
  • Does the profile really tell me anything? (Positive score.)
  • Creepy profile photo? (Seriously; and I mean creepy, not just artistic. Negative score.)
  • Updates that make me feel uncomfortable. (Hateful, bigoted, intolerant. Zero value, ignore.)
  • Is there a link to web site? (Positive score.)
  • Are the profile or updates in a language/character set I cannot read? (Zero value, ignore.)
  • Does this look like a spammer? (Score set to minus infinity, blocked.)

Spotting Spammers

What makes me think that I have been followed by a spammer?

  • Very high number of following, small number of followers. (Remember what I said about not following automatically? Yep, that’s where that small number of followers came from.)
  • No posts
  • 1 or 2 posts with a link to something that they just got for “free”.
  • Link in the 1 or 2 posts is the same as the link in the profile.
  • Profile photograph is of a young woman (who would probably be unamused to find that her Flickr/Facebook/etcetera image is being used in this way.)
  • User name that makes little or no sense (looks like random characters.)

Follow Forever?

Whilst it is very unlikely that I would stop following anyone in my tribe, anyone else whom I may follow is subject to re-evaluation.  Some may think that this might sound like a brutal approach but it should be noted that:

  • Your time is precious.
  • You don’t really owe them anything.
  • It’s not like you’re going to give them a kicking or anything – you are just stopping a subscription to their feed.

Criteria for my ceasing to follow include:

  • Updates too frequent (most common reason for me)
  • Updates not relevant.
  • Updates make me feel uncomfortable.

If you are a follower of mine who I have ceased to follow, don’t take it personally – it’s most likely that you simply have more to to say than I have time to listen.


I hope this provides an insight into how I manage my Twitter followings.  This is what works for me; those who are overwhelmed by Twitter may find this useful for ideas but I would say this: Make your own rules, find what works, and be prepared to change them.


TinyURL for this article:

Further Reading


I have decided to separate any ramblings (as opposed to composed articles) on weight training from the Weighty Matters section of Smiffy’s Place so have started a BodyBlog at (Note that this site is not just for bodybuilders – it’s for just about anyone lifting weights,  Even me.)

Update – the best-laid plans, etcetera. Like so many other blogging projects (I’m not just talking about my own,) after a couple of posts, my BodyBlog has been one long, loud, silence.


Automating #followfriday

This little programme allows me to manage a list of people that I follow on Twitter whom I feel that others might also to follow as well. When invoked without any parameters, it will draw a random name from the list and post a #followfriday message to Twitter.

The idea is that I just maintain the list and have this running on a cron job every Friday. Picks are random so the same person may be picked more than once in a row.

Thanks to @elpie for reminding me of what day Friday is in cron-speak!

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Use it at your own risk, don’t blame me if it eats your computer, causes a Global Economic Meltdown (too late, someone’s already done that, thanks GWB,) etcetera.

The Code

Several attempts were made to copy and paste the code into this article; TinyMCE stuffed up the formatting every time, eating a load of essential backslashes. Rather than convert the whole thing to HTML entities by hand, I’ve given up and have just posted it in my files section.


Adding Members @user1 @user2 @user3

Deleting Members -@user2

Note that you can add and delete in the same command.

Listing Members

follow-u-tron list

Posting to Twitter


This may be put into a cron job.

International Women’s Day 2009

International Women's Day Logo

It saddens me to advise that today (8th March – not accounting for my local timezone here) is International Women’s Day. And the reason that I am sad? It is because IWD need exist at all. To me, it is just another sign of the socially-exclusive behaviour that dominates human societies, irrespective of how “advanced” those societies might be.

Sexism is possibly one of the worst forms of discrimination. Whilst it appears easy for people to take offence at people who are from different countries, may have a different skin colour, have different religions or philosophical beliefs, might walk a bit funny, have different sexual preferences, use their left hands – ooh, all those horrible things – women seem to be singled out as being in some way defective in a horribly large number of societies. Women are not a minority, we have women in our families. Hey, our mothers are women! I try to understand the prejudices that I see in an attempt to understand these naked apes that seem to be dominating and/or trashing this planet; difference = unknown = a threat. But women? Don’t want to speculate on demographics, but half the world’s human population consists of women; other than the different roles in the reproductive process, they are not so different. As a part of our families they should certainly not be unknown. So where’s the threat?

Moving on from the philosophical side and my utter incomprehension of why women should be treated like Space Aliens (and illegal ones a that,) a look at the theme of IWD 2009, per the United Nations:

Women and men united to end violence against women and girls

Ah, practical stuff and something we can all agree on! Possibly. I tend towards the pessimistic and wonder if a lifetime of the species of abuse against the female contingent can be realistically curtailed. Whilst I assume not, cultural changes can at least make it less acceptable and therefore – hopefully – reduce the frequency and stigmatise the offenders.

I am saddened to say that much of my cynicism, pessimism and various other ‘isms that make me think that the lot of women is not going to suddenly get better comes from recent experience. It is now just over 8 years since I moved to my adoptive nation, Australia. This young nation, land of opportunity, a place where everyone gets a “fair go” seems to have gone badly wrong somewhere as the attitude towards women here doesn’t seem to be any better than that prevelant at the time of first colonisation. I thought that maybe what I was seeing was just a characteristic of the rural area where I live; in such areas attitudes are often behind the times. It appears, however, that this is not the case. I am reliably advised by women, professionals from Big Cities, that sexism here is fully rife and showing little sign of going away any time soon.

Be it far from it for me to suggest that Australia is a specifically misanthropic nation; I believe that the conditions for women in Australia are probably typical of most of the “developed” (never saying exactly what is developed – certainly not socially) world.

I find it hard to conclude this article; I am disgusted by what I see, I don’t see it getting any better. Even if it did get better for women, I could probably re-write this article a dozen more times, each time picking up on another group, often close to home, that is a victim of discrimination.

So, although this may seem like I have a) gone off on a tangent or b) completely lost it, I would suggest a reading of Frank Herbert’s “God Emperor of Dune”, with attention being given to Leto’s discourses on the role and history of the Fish Speakers. Reading the orignal trilogy first is probably a good idea.

Further Reading

Fig and Apple Clafoutis


As we have a good crop of figs at the moment, tonight's dessert was a very successful experiment – fig and apple clafoutis.  This is a gluten-free recipe.


2/3rds of a cup of rice flour, one egg, just under one cup of water, small amount of vanilla essence. Add a little guar gum if you want a firmer batter.

Note that the quantity required depends on how much fruit you are using, the size of the baking dish, etcetera.


One Bramley apple ("cooking apples" in the UK; substitute an appropriate large, tart, apple if not available,) about 3 times more fresh figs by volume.


  • Oil baking dish.
  • Clean and chop fruit.
  • Add fruit to dish.
  • Add pinches of powdered cardamom, cassia (or cinnamon,) ginger.
  • Mix fruit/spice mix.
  • Add batter.
  • Mix
  • Bake at 150-175 degrees Celsius until batter is set and protruding fruit just starting to caramelise.


I had a fairly good idea what was going to come out of this but was still surprised by the variety and complexity of flavours – much of this from the figs, due to varying states of ripeness.  I used a fair bit of ginger which gave the whole thing a delightful bite.  Definitely one to repeat.