Commenting Tips

Want to leave a comment to an article here, but don't know where to begin? Jealous of other commenters for their masterful use of bold and italic text, and want to follow in their footsteps by jazzing up your own comments?

Then this page is for you!

I've broken up such commenting advice into three sections -- Beginner Tips, Intermediate Tips, and Expert Tips. For those first faced with the challenge of commenting on any blog for the first time, Beginner Tips covers everything from signing up on our site, and posting your first comment here, to some general rules and advice for commenting. Intermediate Tips covers posting (within your comment) a link to another website, and the basics of how to format comment text (to add features like bold, italics, or underline, for emphasis). And Expert Tips covers customizing your links, and comment permalinks. None of this stuff is very hard, and with a little practice, you will easily be able to make your own comments look very snazzy indeed.

Anyway, either scroll down to read the full text, or jump directly to individual subjects by clicking on the following headings. If you don't find the answers you're looking for here, try our general site FAQ page, or our Comment Policy page instead. If you still don't have an answer to your question, then use the Email Chris page to drop us a line, and ask us directly.


Beginner Tips

Signing up (registering as a site user)
To comment on this site, you are required to sign up as a site user. Doing so means you must provide us with a working email address, as well as a User Name, which you will be subsequently identified by on this site (Note: this name is not editable later on, so be sure to pick a good one the first time around, especially since our software only allows one User Name per valid email address). This requirement is for security reasons, to stop various forms of spam. Your email address will never be used for any advertising or any other nefarious purposes by (see our Privacy Policy). I may occasionally contact people directly by email, if I have a private comment to them -- but this is rare (and usually only done to clear up someone's technical problems with the site itself). You can also use our Email Chris page to contact me directly (and privately) by email, instead of via publicly-viewable comments to an article.

To sign up as a user, you can always go to our Log In page, and click the small "Register" link at the bottom. Or go directly to our Register page to sign up. Your new user name and email are all that is required. Enter these, and a random password will be generated and emailed to you, so you can then log in to your new account.


Logging in
The first time you log in with your new password (look for the "Log In" link in the menu bar at the top of each page here, or at the end of the comments list for any article -- or, go directly to the Log In page), you will be presented with the "backstage" page where you will be able to change your own user settings, or your "User Profile" (see next item for details). To return to the main site from this backstage area, just click on the link in the upper left corner of this screen, or click "Back" on your browser (although you may have to "Reload" the page, for it to recognize you as being logged in).


Changing your User Profile (and your password)
Once you are registered as a valid user, you will be able to enter more information about yourself, if you'd like, in your User Profile.

The two things you won't be able to change are your User Name and your registered email address. But there are many optional data fields which you can add to, if you wish. Don't be confused by the "First Name / Last Name / Nickname" fields, as whatever you select in the "Display name publicly as" field is what other people will see publicly on the site.

The "Contact Info" section is there, if you want to make it easier for others to see who you are. If you have your own website, for instance, that you'd like to promote (like your own blog), enter the URL in the "Website" field, and then every time you post, your user name will appear as a link to this website (so that other people can find your site easily). The rest of these fields are for easy access to Instant Messaging, and other types of contact information, so if you use these, enter the relevant information.

The "Biographical Info" field is not used by currently, so this information is not currently publicly available (and, I have to admit, I never look at it). We suggest you leave this field blank.

At the bottom is the most important entry field on this page, where you can change your password to anything you like. Just type your new password in twice, and click the "Update Profile" button at the bottom, and your new password should begin working. But don't forget to pick something you can remember easily, or (at the very least) write it down somewhere, together with your login name.


Why can't I see my first comment?
Once again -- to combat spam -- we have to personally check out and approve the first comment any new user posts to the site. This guarantees that the comments you see on the site are from real, live human beings -- and not from some "botnet" generating spam comments. This approval process, we admit, may take some time. We run on Pacific Time here at, and we are abnormally lazy, if truth be told. Also, we keep very strange hours in front of the computer screen, which can change without notice. So your first comment may be approved within minutes, and it may sit dormant for hours (or, on the weekends, even "days"). We apologize for this inconvenience, but until we get a full stable of tech wizards on the payroll, this is just the way it works.

But the good news is that you only have to go through this vetting once. Once your first comment is approved by our moderators, subsequent comments will appear immediately and instantly, as you post them.


Lost your password?
If you've lost or forgotten your password, either click the "Lost your password?" link at the bottom of the Log In page, or go directly to the "Lost your password?" page itself, where you can either enter your user name, or the email address you registered under.

Once you do, your old password will then be overwritten, and a new password will be automatically generated for you to use to log in again. This new password will be emailed to you at the email address you initially provided when signing up. Log in with the new password, and then go to your User Settings and change your password to something you can actually remember (or, at the very least, write it down!).


Commenting etiquette
The "rules of the road" are intentionally a bit lax here, because we like to encourage a full-throated discussion of the issues of the day. But this doesn't mean that there aren't certain lines you should not cross in commenting.

The "Golden Rule" here can be summed up as: attack the idea all you want, but don't attack the person proposing the idea. That's really it in a nutshell.

For a further explanation of our guidelines, please read our official Comment Policy page, if you are unsure in any way over a comment you are considering posting. Our comment policy can be succinctly summed up as: We can ban whomever we wish, for any reason that flits into our heads.

But, while this sounds Draconian indeed, we (to date) have never had to actually exercise this godlike power. We have deleted a comment here and there, and we have privately warned certain commenters that they are skating the edge of acceptability, but we have never (unless you count spammers, which we do not) had to actually blacklist a commenter yet.

But that's not to say you won't be the first. So keep the conversation on a level with what you would say out loud in front of your own mother, and you should have no problems.

In other words: You have been warned, so don't come crying to us later.


Additional help with the site
For further help with the site, and to answer questions beyond the realm of signing in and commenting, please check our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page, to see if the answer you require is there. If all else fails, use the Email Chris page to drop us a line to get your individual question answered.

Intermediate Tips

Posting a link
If you'd like to post a link to another article or site, you can do so easily, just by pasting it in (on its own separate line). Say you read an article that fits in with the discussion. Rather than copying and pasting the whole text of the article in as a comment (which is technically illegal if the article is copyrighted, and is severely frowned upon here, for wasting database space), you can just post a link to the article. Go to the article with your browser, and then copy the "http://www..." line at the top (copy the entire text of this line). Then come back here to post a comment, and paste the text in as a separate line.

Here's an example. Type in (to the comment entry box on any article) something like the following:

  1. I saw a great article on this subject over at

    that everyone should check out.


...and it will appear as:

  1. I saw a great article on this subject over at

    that everyone should check out.


The text of the link you pasted in automatically becomes a link that others can follow, to get to the site you linked to. Pretty cool!

While pasting the link in on its own line isn't strictly necessary, it does help to avoid formatting problems and generally makes the whole thing easier to read -- so I strongly encourage using this format, unless you want to try the "Expert" way to post such links (see below).

One thing worth noting is that if you attempt to post multiple links within the same comment, it will be automatically be held for moderation. This, again, is to cut down on "comment spam," and is necessary. Just be patient, and the comment should get cleared eventually. The way to avoid this is to post each individual link within a separate comment (limit it to one link per comment, in other words, and the comments should post automatically, without having to be moderated).


Basic HTML tags (bold, italic, underline)
Every web page is comprised of HTML text. This stands for HyperText Markup Language, and is the common computer language which all browsers use. It works by using little markers known as "tags," which allow you to better format your text. If you ever used the first generation of word processors (pre-Macintosh -- like WordStar, for instance), they may actually look familiar. For every piece of formatting, there is a beginning tag and an end tag.

Here's an example. Type in the following to the comment entry box:

  1. This sentence contains <b>some bold text</b>, and <i>some italic text</i>.

...and it will be posted as:

  1. This sentence contains some bold text, and some italic text.

Hey, presto! Magic!

The three most commonly used tags are: <b></b> (bold), <i></i> (italic), and <u></u> (underline). Try them out for emphasis in your comments!

There are just a few rules to remember when using these tags:

(1) ALWAYS close your tag. The full tag surrounds the text you are highlighting. You have a "begin new style" tag, and you must match it with an "end style" tag (with the / slash in front). If you forget to close your tags, then not only will your comment wind up looking weird, but everything on the page after that point (in other words, everyone else's comments) may look weird too. So always, always remember to close your tags.

(2) We use hair-on-the-chest HTML formatting here (my apologies to the ladies, for my anachronistic and downright chauvinistic metaphor, there). Some web sites only allow brackets to surround tags in comments -- as in "[b]" instead of "<b>" -- which can get confusing if you're used to this system of using [] brackets. So remember, here at, use real HTML angle brackets <>, (or "less than" and "greater than" signs) to surround your tags, or else they won't work here.

(3) A note of caution -- don't try to use these <> angle brackets within your text anywhere, either. They can confuse browsers. In order to make them appear even on this page, for instance, I have to use a special trick -- but, I have to say, it's just not worth it. Luckily for everyone, in American English these characters are almost never called for (with the exception of their use in math equations), so this shouldn't ever be a problem for you.

That's it! Give HTML tags a try, you'll see that they're easier to use than you may think.

One word of caution, if the website ever becomes vulnerable to "malware" attacks, I may have to turn the "real" HTML tags off. So don't get too fancy, and try to stick to the basic tags.

Expert Tips

Permalinks are nothing more than "permanent links." For an article, there is a permalink at the bottom of the article, but it is the same link as the one that got you to the article (it's no different clicking on this permalink as it is clicking on the article's title -- they'll take you to exactly the same place). But comments now also have permalinks. This way, you can provide a link to your exact comment on one of these articles.

This really doesn't come in handy unless you write such a brilliant comment here that you want to share it elsewhere -- commenting on another blog, for instance. After you post your comment here, click on the "[Permalink]" at the bottom of that individual comment. This will take your browser to an individual link which points directly at your comment, rather than just the general link for this article. Copy this address from the top of your browser, and then use it to paste in to a comment elsewhere. Or, "right-click" on the "[Permalink]" at the bottom of your comment (after you post it), and then choose "copy link location" or "copy link to clipboard" (or whatever) from the menu which appears (which does save time). Take this copied link text, and then paste it into a comment on another site, and you have sent people not just to the article here, but to your individual comment itself.

The comment permalinks have actually always existed here (you are sent to this address immediately after you post any comment -- this is the way it's always worked, although it was never explicitly pointed out before). But we've now added visible permalinks to each comment (because it was fairly easy to do, programmatically), and because every once in a while it may come in handy for commenters to use, when commenting on other sites.


Customizing your links
If you want to get a little fancier with your links, you can customize them so they fit into the flow of your text. A link (to another page), after all, is nothing more than a slightly-more-complicated HTML tag. When you paste the text of a link into your comment on a separate line, this site will automatically make it into a link for you (as discussed in the Intermediate section, above). But you can also create and customize such links for yourself, if you'd like.

The benefit to doing so is that you can make certain words be the link itself, and hide the long link "address" (or "URL").

Here is how the link from the Intermediate section ended up appearing:


But if you typed the following in to the comment entry text box (instead of just pasting the link text in), the link would appear exactly the same way:

  1. <a href=""></a>

But the whole point of customizing links is to hide this URL text, and just make a few words within a sentence into a link.

The basic structure of a link is the <a href=""></a> tag (note the space -- it is "a href" and not "ahref" -- this is important). Here's an example, where I'm linking to my site. I type into the comment box:

  1. If you liked this article, you're going to love checking out my <a href="">poll-watching site</a>!

This will appear as:

  1. If you liked this article, you're going to love checking out my poll-watching site!

Notice that the "close" tag for <a href> is just </a> and not </a href>.

Notice also that everything between the tags is made into one single link. As with all tags, be careful of the text enclosed by the tags -- avoid enclosing leading/trailing spaces (or punctuation) within this text, or else it will be included in the link (which comes out looking kind of sloppy).


That's all I can think of, for now. If you have any further questions you'd like to see answered here, use the Email Chris page to drop me a note to let me know.