Fun with Character and Entity References and Why You Should Use Them

Character references? Entity references? Am I referencing some obscure geek joke? No, I’m actually talking about a often overlooked aspect of the push towards a more semantic Web.

What are Character and Entity References?

First, let me explain what character and entity references are actually referencing.

Written languages the world over employ various symbols to denote different effects of verbal communication. In addition to these punctuation marks, various symbols are used to describe relationships between parts of a written phrase. One very common example of this is the dash to denote a range of numbers. For example, the dash between the years in the sentence “George Orwell (1903–1950) was a British author,” denotes a range of years in which George Orwell lived.

Many times, this is written with a simple dash. A dash looks like this, - and its purpose is to break apart long words at the end of a line in print or to connect two words to form a single one. The dash used in the above lifespan example is not a regular dash. It is called an n-dash, named for its length, about equal to the width of the lowercase letter N.

The other common dash seen in prose is the dash used to break the flow of a sentence. This is called an m-dash, which looks like this , and is named for its width (approximately as wide as the lowercase letter M). I’ve often seen this written online as two dashes like this: --. You probably have, too.

Ordinarily, word processors like Microsoft Word take care of the formatting. If you type -- and then hit the space-bar in word, the program automatically converts your dashes into an m-dash. But if you were to copy and paste the Word-formatted m-dash into an HTML document, browsers would have difficulty reading the character and would be unable to display it appropriately. This is where character references come into play.

Okay, so how do I use them?

Character references are specially-encoded characters referenced by number. For example, the character reference for writing an m-dash is —, that is, an ampersand, the octothorpe (frequently misinterpreted as the number sign) symbol, the numeric characters 8, 2, 1, and 2, followed by a semicolon to mark the end of the reference. All character and entity references begin with an ampersand (&) and end with a semicolon (;).

Entity references are almost identical to character references, except they refer to specific characters by name rather than by number. For example, the entity reference to write an m-dash is —. Entity references were created to make character references easier to remember.

Word of Warning! Many HTML entity references are not compatible with some other language formats (most notably SVG). Always use the numeric character references in favor of entity references for maximum document portability. That said, I often use entity references simply because they’re easier to remember. If I want to port my document to some other format, though, I’ll need to replace the entity references with proper entity values. This XML.com article is great if you’re looking for more information on typography in general or how it pertains to SVG specifically.

Why should I go through all this trouble?

  1. Professionalism. If you have a business Web site, then you should do it for no other reason than because it’s only professional to do so.
  2. Semantic accuracy. There is a big difference between three periods in a row and an ellipses. The former is simply bad English. (An ellipses, by the way, is …, or ….)
  3. For looks. Which line do you think looks better:
    1. "They used dumb quotes all over their site!"
    2. “I was impressed; they used smart quotes on their site!”

    Smart quotes, by the way, can be written with “ for opening quotes, and ” for closing quotes. This name is an abbreviation of “left/right double quote”. The character references are “ and ”, respectively.

Great! I love my newfound semantic correctness. Now can I have some fun?

You bet! A friend of mine blogged the other day and had just the need for such entity references. In this case, she wanted to make a check mark appear. Here’s a table showing some fun symbols you can use to spice up the text on your page! Just be aware that some older browsers won’t render these properly, because they don’t understand them, and some symbols won’t work with certain encodings. For best results, encode your page as UTF-8.

Symbol Meaning HTML Entity Reference Numeric Character Reference
Here is a very comprehensive list of HTML entity references.
Check mark? Check! None. ✓
Mail envelope. None. ✉
Victory! w00t! None. ✌
Musical double bar note. None. ♬
Black pawn. Now you can use your friends for evil. None. ♟
Cancer zodiac symbol. My sign. None. ♋
Smiley. Just like your word processor! None. ☺
Yin and yang. Gives you balance and inner peace. None. ☯
Star of David. Jewish religious symbol. None. ✡
Biohazard sign. Put this on your splash page to keep others out. Heh…. None. ☣
Skull and bones. Yar. None. ☠
Telephone. None. ☎
Solid star. Rate your friends. None. &#9733
Paragraph mark. Use it to annoy bad Microsoft Word authors who don’t turn on invisible characters. >:) ¶ ¶
· Middle dot. An interesting factoid is that this is used as a separator between foreign first and last names in Japanese. · ·
Þ Capitol THORN. Makes for a great smiley. :-Þ Þ Þ
Dagger. Used for footnotes and the like. Also useful for stabbing. † †
ƒ Latin lower case F with hook. Sometimes used on Apple Macintosh computers as a suffix for folder names. ƒ ƒ
Cursive capital letter P, power set, and Weierstraff P. ℘ ℘
Blackletter capital letter I, and mathematical imaginary part symbol. ℑ ℑ
Blackletter capital letter R and mathematical real part symbol. ℜ ℜ
Hebrew print letter Alef, and mathematical first transfinite cardinal. ℵ ℵ
mathematical vector product, or circled times. ⊗ ⊗
Lozenge, a geometric diamond. Also a great cough candy. ◊ ◊
Numero symbol. The real number sign. None. №

Hope you have fun with these. ‘Til next time, ☮-out!

News Night, Without Aaron Brown

In the spirit of The Tao of Mac, here are some links that have caught my attention recently. None of them, thankfully, have anything to do with politics.

Hidden Characters in Safari’s Copy-and-Paste Caused Site Errors

Earlier today, (well technically it was yesterday) I installed the Acronym Replacer WordPress plugin and had my whole site crash with a PHP parse error. I immediately deactivated the plugin, and everything was fine. I spent the next half hour reviewing the code, and upon finding no apparent problems that would have caused such an obvious error, I spent the following half hour searching the Internet for possible causes. As it turns out, it was really quite simple. Thanks to Dave over at ForbiddenByte I was able to solve the problem in minutes!

It turns out that Safari has a nasty little bug that causes text that you copy to contain invisible characters, referred to as “gremlins,” which are copied right along with the text. This means that when you select and copy code fragments, then paste them right into a source file such as PHP script in my case those gremlins come right along with the code and confuse the hell out of the computer.

The solution then is not to use Safari for copying code. I fired up Firefox, copied the source code for the plugin, pasted it right into my site and bam! No problems.

I’m hoping this entry might save someone the aggravation that I could have gone through, if it weren’t for Dave. That’s the beauty of community, really. The wonder of the Web.

Business Cards, the Essential Networking Tool

Networking, as in social and business networking, relies on persistence. Interestingly, the concept can be extended to apply to computer networking as well. One of the underlying communications protocols of the Internet, ICMP (a part of the TCP/IP protocol suite) plays a very important role in creating connections between computers, and ensuring that these connections stay connected.

Likewise, in social networks, it’s important to have some kind of contact information that is easy to disseminate so that you can be easily reached when opportunity knocks. Enter the business card. And, finally, I’ve got mine! Here it is:

My business card, showing my contact information, and listing some of my technical skills on the back.

Actually, it’s already a little out of date, but it certainly serves its function.

The other day I went to my first New York City Entrepeneur Meetup Group meeting, and this very subject of business cards came up. It’s entirely true; I actually remember the folks who gave me a card far more than I can remember the folks who didn’t. Now, of course, I just need to get Maymay Media’s web site up and running….

Distinguishing Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder from Everyday Life

Symptoms, in itself, is an interesting word. Depending upon how one thinks of a “symptom” many different things can be included in the definition. For the purposes of this exploration, I’ll define symptom as any effect which is believed to be caused by having bipolar disorder. This is an important distinction to make because it excludes things that are altered due to being bipolar but that are not directly caused by it. For instance, under this definition, an angry mood swing can be considered a symptom because it may be caused by the disorder but subsequent yelling or fighting is not and is therefore excluded as a possible symptom.

Here’s a list of some direct symptoms I experience nearly every day.

  1. Potentially extreme mood swings caused by innocuous triggers, such as the weather, frustrating news from a client, or a compliment on my attire for the day.
  2. Insomnia due to manic energies.
  3. Increased rate of speech. I have had to explicitly practice speaking slower so that people can understand what I say.
  4. Extremely distractable. Focusing on anything, be it a work project, a TV show, someone else, takes almost noticeable effort. I have gotten better at this with practice too.
  5. Reduced apetite, either due to depression or to excitement about other things. I literally don’t remember to eat very frequently.

In addition, there are some symptoms which are less frequent. Such symptoms include physical pain due to extreme depression (usually in the pain of my hand, arm, or chest), difficulty moving (again, depression can literally be paralyzing), and loss of specific blocks of memory.

Some of these seem more extreme than others. More interesting than the fact that these are actually symptoms of “just” a mood disorder, I think, is the observation that emotions can powerfully affect so many different parts of life. There is a lot to be said for knowing thyself, isn’t there?

So What Is A Symptom?

Some symptoms of Bipolar Disorder are very general. For example, the American National Mental Health Association’s List of Symptoms for Bipolar Disorder state “Easily irritated or distracted, provocative, intrusive or aggressive behavior, fatigue or loss of energy and irritability or restlessness” among others as possible symptoms. Each of these symptoms can have many causes. Here is a list of a few possibilities right off the top of my head.

  • Lack of sleep.
  • Long day at work.
  • Just found out a friend is in the hospital.
  • Relationship problems.

There is no reason why someone who is not Bipolar would not display the same symptoms as someone who is. A cursory glance at these lists is all that’s needed to label everyone on Earth as bipolar. Furthermore, there is currently no test available with which to determine whether someone has Bipolar Disorder or not with absolute accuracy.

That’s a very hard question. It is a fact that psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, and other mental-health professionals very often mistake bipolar disorder as some other disorder such as ADD or social anxiety disorder. Sometimes, they don’t even catch it at all.

One reason why the question is hard for me is because I’m not “normal.” I’ve never been normal! How would I know the difference between what is caused by bipolar disorder and what isn’t without a frame of reference? The answer is quite simply that I’ve had to guess. I’ve observed other people, and then noted both differences and similarities between how they act in certain circumstances and how I act. For example, this came up in a conversation with a friend recently.

For a long time, I was always so self-conscious whenever I needed to cough or sneeze on the subway. It’s not that I’m afraid of coughing or sneezing in public, but it’s just that no one else is making any noise, so if I sneezed it’d be very noticeable. Then I realized that other people coughed and sneezed all the time (which is why I try to remember to wash my hands when I come home) and it never seemed to affect them. So, I figured it’s probably not something important enough to worry about.

By observing the surrounding environment I believe I can get a pretty good sense of what normal is even without being “a normal person.” If you want to get slightly philosophical, remember that no individual is the same as another individual, so even within the “normal” range there can be great variances. How do normal people know they are normal? They actually don’t, but they use the same technique of observation I described above without realizing it, and then end up with a conclusion that they can believe.

In any comparison, it helps to first establish the things being compared individually. In this case, that means to first define what is considered normal, and then define what isn’t.

Defining Normal

The Princeton online dictionary (accessed via a Google search for the word normal) states eloquently that normal is “being approximately average or within certain limits.”

In the case of relevance to bipolar disorder, this means that the range of emotions felt by a normal person is contained within certain limits and do not reach extreme levels. This is either the result of being less sensitive to the normal ups and downs of life or because these emotions simply get capped at some point. To put it biological terms, the chemistry in their brains does not change as rapidly or as much as someone with bipolar disorder. The symptoms listed earlier are thus less likely to occur in a normal person, though this does not necessarily mean that they will not.

Defining What Isn’t Normal

Now that we have defined normal, it is very easy to define what isn’t. Obviously, what isn’t normal is anything that does not adhere to the above restrictions. Bipolar people are not normal precisely because they behave differently than most other people when in the same situations. Usually, our behavior is more acute. When we are sad, we easily slip into severe clinical depression. When we are happy, we easily lose touch with the practical reality in favor of the happiness.

That simply does not happen to most people, and it’s a fascinating difference to contemplate. It’s also true that people who are bipolar are affected by the same things as people who are normal, and they are also likely affected in the same way.

Bipolar Disorder is Usually Responsible for Effects, Not Causes

So how can I, really, tell the difference? I can’t, but then, I don’t need to. Observation has taught me that I am very normal in regards to what triggers different moods in me and how I am affected by those moods.

One of the most important things I’ve learned about triggers and symptoms of bipolar disorder is that there has never been a mood swing, outburst, or mania without a real event as a cause, as a trigger. That’s something my father first noticed and told me back when I was a teenager, and it’s something that has helped keep me confident in my sanity for a long time.

Sometimes it’s very hard to spot what originally triggered a mood, but if I re-trace my steps backward through time and focus on what my emotions were saying at each moment, I can always find what triggered my mood. That’s when it becomes crystal clear that bipolar disorer affected my response, my reaction to the trigger, far more than it caused my initial mood swing. It was, in fact, my interpretation of the event, my response to the reality I perceived, that caused my mood.

Distinguishing the symptoms have become less important to me than distinguishing my reactions. I don’t hope to cure my bipolar disorder, but I do hope to live happily with it.

Redirects: An 8th Grader Could do Better!

How hard do you think it should be to find some information on the Internet? Not very. Google makes it easy to find information, but they don’t host any of it. That means that when Google tells me that it found something I might be interested in, I have to go the source to find it.

While Google does its job very well, the source of the information doesn’t always give it up so easily. For instance, earlier today I wanted to find a brief summary statement of Vincent van Gough’s life. Just a little blurb, nothing fancy like images or some kind of wow-me-silly presentation. Just a line that looked something like “Vincent van Gough was born in … he painted this many paintings in this style. Etc, etc….”

Naturally, I googled the term. Among others, that brought me to the ArtCyclopedia page on Vincent van Gough. But wait, don’t click on that link! Why? Because it’s a redirect page!

After searching for nearly 20 minutes, getting a redirect page was more than just frustrating, it was painful. First of all, there’s no reason at all why a redirect page can’t be automatic. Even a simple http-equiv="refresh" would have been better than making me click the link. I actually spent some time looking for link to the page I was supposed to go to because their link wasn’t clear enough.

Which leads me to point number one about redirects:

Always put the link at the top of the page, and make it as prominent as possible!

To get more technical, there’s actually no reason why a redirect page should be necessary at all! Using sever-side scripting one could easily output a Location HTTP header and be done with it. Alternatively, you could simply put a Redirect permanent line in a .htaccess file. And if you needed anything fancier, Apache’s mod_rewrite can turn any URI into any filename request imagineable!

So in the end, this redirect page wasn’t even necessary!

The real blow hit me when I actually got the right page. The problem here is two-fold.

  1. No information about Vincent van Gough is directly on the page. You need to click on hyperlinks to find anything out.
  2. The page is divided into two sections; a navbar sits on the left side of the site. But that navbar is frozen on the screen somehow and doesn’t scroll with the rest of the site! This wouldn’t be a problem if I had a monitor the length of a city block, but as it stands it presents a major navigational problem: I can’t get to the rest of the links, presumably where my desired information is, because the links aren’t accessible!

I wish this were a rare problem, but bad web sites like these exist in abundance all over the place. In the end, I got my information from Jordan, an 8th grader with better design skills than whoever did that blasted ArtCyclopedia design. Thank you Jordan!

Can Bipolar Disorder be Cured?

Some people believe that anything affecting the psychology of a person can be changed simply by having enough willpower. This line of reasoning looks something like this:

  1. Bipolar disorder affects moods, a psychological (i.e. emotional) effect.
  2. One can change one’s own moods.
  3. Therefore, should one have enough willpower, one’s own moods can be changed.
  4. With power over one’s moods, Bipolar Disorder no longer has any effect.
  5. Since the disorder has no effect, it can be called cured.

This reasoning is all too common, but flawed. It is extremely simplistic, makes several assumptions that are not necessarily correct, and disregards many other aspects of what bipolar disorder does. This is an example of treating the symptom instead of the cause and that’s why it’s incorrect. Present-day medications don’t offer a cure for the same reason.

Unfortunately, the cause of bipolar disorder is still being studied, and so no one can be absolutely certain what actually causes one to have it. The dominant prevailing theory today is that it is caused by a genetic trait of some sort. In other words, if you have bipolar disorder, then you were born with it and sometime during your life you began to experience symptoms. My symptoms started at around the age of twelve.

Until such a time as the cause of bipolar disorder is known with absolute certainty and the medical technology to prevent and/or alter it exists, it is not possible to cure bipolar disorder in the clinical sense of the word. But that’s an awfully limiting definition for “cure,” don’t you think?

Life is about more than just physiology. Bipolar disorder is unique in that it crosses the boundary between physiology and psychology. If you get bronchitis, you go to the doctor and he gives you a pill; in three weeks you’ll be cured. Bipolar disorder can be argued to be caused by physical effects (albeit on the molecular level) but its direct effects extend into the realm of the mind, into the psychological and emotional inner workings of a person. You can’t just take a pill and wait to be cured.

Furthermore, it is important to understand that people with bipolar disorder can no more control the physical, chemical effects in their brains caused by bipolar disorder than they can control the fact that they were born with two arms and two legs. It is a function of the disorder that, despite your best efforts, you can not change.

For example, imagine a man who was born blind. Try as he might, he can’t see, regardless of how strong his desire to do so may be. A bipolar person can no more wish themselves to not be bipolar as the blind man in my example can wish himself to see. However, like the blind man, bipolar people can learn to live with and even capitalize on their condition. Many famous people throughout history were all purportedly bipolar. Even today, there are countless celebrities who have bipolar disorder. Yet in different ways and in different fields each of them achieved great success.

In my opinion, too much emphasis is always placed on treating the disorder. The far more salient issue, however, is what I can do to help myself live with it. One can even take this a step further and ask, “How can I use it to my advantage?” This question addresses the one thing that treatment regiments and the search for cures will never address: that being bipolar (or having any other type of mood disorder) can actually be quite a powerful gift.

For me, it is difficult to imagine curing the disorder because in effect that would mean changing who I am in a very fundamental way. It is almost like saying to the blind man in my earlier example, “When you take this pill, you will be able to see…and you will be a female Martian.” It is not a fathomable concept to not be yourself. Even the mighty human imagination falls to its inherent flaw: it was imagined by you, the very person you will no longer be.

Please don’t misunderstand me, however. I am not against treatment regiments or quests for cures. I advocate taking medicines religiously and speaking with doctors, therapists, and support groups if possible. The more help that is available, the better! But all of these are supplemental to the work which must be done at improving the emotional situation. There must be a desire to be well before one will feel better.

Sadly, that desire isn’t always there. When I’m depressed, for instance, it’s hard enough to wake myself up. But there in lies the potential for a cure, and a cure far more powerful and long-lasting than any clinical definition can provide: the full awareness of one’s self and one’s surroundins. Zen-like, maybe.

Seeking that motivation, I believe, is the real cure. No one except one’s self can provide it.

Migrating to WordPress

In an effort to allow some semblance of a unified site, I’m hacking WordPress to my liking so that I’ll be able to quickly and easily update things here and keep on keepin’ on writing. Basically, this means things are going to be up in the air for a while. Not like that’s anything new around here, but the point is that they’re not supposed to be up in the air, and that’s what I’m trying to create for myself.

This is actually a slightly bigger project than one might expect, and so I won’t be surprised if I miss a few things. If you’re so inclined, please help by letting me know when things don’t work. A broken link, a broken form, news feeds not working for you, heck, even a typo. It all really helps me out. Thanks!

For now this basic design will work, and I’m in the process of making the site database-driven. I’m sort of working from the top down, though. I still haven’t finished the stylesheets for the project, and I’m also finalizing what kind of XHTML I’m going to output. Ideally, I’d like the site to use several stylesheets with the same template at once and so this complicates the markup issue slightly. Also as far as stylesheets go, I’m aware of a few problems in some browsers, so those will have to be worked through as well. Honestly, though, it’s mostly fine in most browsers, and that’s mostly okay with me. There are other issues to attend to.

First, though, I want to make sure the system is working properly. For instance, if you’re trying to recieve newsfeeds via SharpReader then you won’t be able to access any of my feeds. I’m still trying to figure this one out so the best thing I can say would be to use a different newsreader for the time being. You might consider Bloglines, which is web-based so you can use it on any computer. Currently, I suspect the SharpReader problem has to do with how strict it is regarding charset encoding but that’s just a wild guess since I really haven’t had a chance to dig yet.

Are you XP SPecial?

Well, I took the plunge and finally upgraded updated my laptop to Windows XP Service Pack 2. Had a good laugh at the “…we strongly recommend that you back up your system…” message first, though. The whole process took nearly four (4!) hours to complete, but all in all nothing really went wrong.

One extremely bizarre thing, however, is that I lost all my Firefox bookmarks. Didn’t even try to figure that one out; I have backups.

I rather like the new Security Center that comes with SP 2. At the very least, it makes me feel a little better. There’s also a far better-looking Wi-Fi interface which makes connecting to and from wireless networks a whole lot easier.

It still broke Nmap, though.

The Digital Dating Disparity

This has always bothered me, though I don’t know why it bothers me to such a (possibly) unreasonable extent. Furthermore, I am convinced that it is an absolutely foreign concept to females. Someone, please, prove me wrong. I would much rather think that I am neurotic and am behaving unfairly. That way, I could at least work on improving the emotional situation for myself. So, at the risk of raising a bit of controversy, here’s my whining and griping for the day.

The “Dating” Situation

There is a glaring disparity in the way men and women use technology to attract members of the opposite sex for any and every purpose imaginable. This is most apparent in the romantic realm and so that’s what I’ll be discussing, but it doesn’t end there. Everything that follows applies to any situation in which gender is an issue, including platonic social networking. That fact especially is likely one reason why it upsets me even more so.

  1. There are many more men than women using the Internet as a means to a social networking end, like dating. Available females who are publicly advertising themselves as available are so few and far between when compared to the male population of the same that the disparity is partially simply one of numbers. With so many men to choose from, women need not try very hard to attract one (or many). Contrastingly, with so few women available, men must work much, much more to interest and attract the woman.
  2. Furthermore, and this is true even of a real-life situation in a bar, club, or at Starbucks, men are far more likely to approach a woman to express interest in her because this is what is expected of them to do. Should a woman do this, it is more likely to be considered surprisingly “forward”. In other words, women are expected to “bait and wait”.

The cumulative results of the online “dating” situation are as follows:

  • If you are a woman:
    1. You are inundated with propositions, welcome or otherwise. In an online setting, this means instant messages, emails, posts, or other things that make your computer go “beep!”
    2. You spend most of your time sorting through these propositions, deciding with a justified split-second choice whether or not to give this particular suitor the time of day. Tools exist especially for this purpose, such as the automated reply.
    3. You don’t need to set up a particularly engaging profile or otherwise advertise yourself as available.
  • If you are a man:
    1. You need to ensure that your profile is unique and engaging enough to sit and read through. Despite this, the chances of it being read through are minimal anyway.
    2. You need to actively monitor the situation, seek opportunities, and act on those opportunities quickly. You will need to spend a lot of time browsing profiles and sending messages. If you can manage it, you need to be available to talk with directly. You are expected to pursue.
    3. Your messages and conversational skills need to be way above par. You must be an excellent conversationalist, a good listener, and a quick typist. In short, you must be engaging.

Put simply: when a man and woman begin talking online, the woman is appropriately not invested, while the man knows that he’s at least somewhat fortunate just to have the conversation.

How it affects me:

My girlfriend is already part of several online social networking services like Friendster and orkut. Actually, I invited her to orkut. As is typical, she gets literally dozens of offers and messages all the time from guys on these services and, comparatively, I get none from anyone. And, yes, I’ll freely admit to being somewhat jealous of her for this. (Wouldn’t you be?)

Moving on however, it is sometimes incredibly difficult for me to feel secure because of all this. That’s what really bothers me — and it doesn’t have anything to do with my girlfriend. I am not the jealous type, I am not controlling or restrictive, and I am not a paranoid psychotic. Nevertheless, the fact remains that it is far easier for a woman to find a man than it is for a man to find a woman, and that fact is utterly unnerving when it is prominently presented time and time again as random men propositioning my girlfriend in all sorts of ways.

To her credit, she is very affectionate and does a wonderful job of reminding me that she loves me. That’s something I need every so often. In fact, as I wrote this entry she said so more than five times. I really don’t have much fear of being subverted by some random guy she meets online. Quite to the contrary; I’ve been her biggest supporter when it comes to striking out to make a social network independent of my own. Like I said before, I’m in no way controlling or restrictive, and I am proud of that.

Still, there is this nagging feeling of…bitterness, maybe, at the situation being so utterly one-sided. Currently, she discovered someone who I’ll call John, and has spent more than five hours talking to him over AIM in the last two nights. I’m not worried that I’ll lose her to John; I’m jealous that she can meet people so effortlessly because she has boobs and I can’t because I don’t.

Ladies, you just don’t know. And I really don’t think you understand the gravity of the effect….

As another note, consider the following excerpt from an IM conversation with a female friend.

…in little stuff, my gmail invite off [gmailswap.com], I posted total BS about my eternal gratefulness or some such thing. But I put in there I was female and got [a gmail account] almost instantly.

(Emphasis added.)

On the up side to the whole thing, my afore-quoted friend did point out that this isn’t something which causes women to fall into lovely, fairy-tale-like relationships. Men who proliferate this trend by being deceitful are in for a very short fling at most. (Or so I hope. Every woman out there, it sometimes seems, needs to start developing more self-esteem, and fast. And not just the outward facade of being cool but true self-acceptance and emotional self-reliance.)

Come to think of it, I think this may be why there is so much dishonesty online. Men have been backed into a corner. We don’t have the power to change this anymore; try to fight it and you simply won’t get the girl. Some (read: plenty) thus resort to lies which they justify as "embellishments". It should also be noted that I don’t believe women are under any obligation to give up this power on principle. In fact, if I were a woman I would be taking advantage of this as much as I could. One of the really annoying things, however, is that some women don’t seem to understand that this isn’t a right. It’s a situation of circumstance. A situation that sometimes frustrates me to no end, and scares me at other times.

But all is well and good when my sweetheart comes to bed, kisses me gently and tells me she loves me. I am lucky to have her love, and don’t for one minute think that I ever forget that.