Fast fixing

“Didn’t we just get 3.8.2?” I mused as the email notifiers came in last night to tell me that 3.8.3 had just arrived. There was, of course, a reason for that:

The “Quick Draft” tool on the dashboard screen was broken in the 3.8.2 update. If you tried to use it, your draft would disappear and it wouldn’t save. While we doubt anyone was writing a novella using this tool, any loss of content is unacceptable to us.

We recognize how much trust you place in us to safeguard your content, and we take this responsibility very seriously. We’re sorry we let you down.

Now what kind of nimrod writes novellas in the WordPress editor?

Oh, right. Never mind.

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While you’re at it

WordPress announced the release of version 3.8.2 yesterday; I was planning to do the update later that evening, but an email around dinnertime announced that the dirty deed had already been done. Three others followed in short order, for some other sites I maintain, and one of them deviated slightly from the formula by telling me that “You also have some plugins or themes with updates available.”

Heck, you’d think that if they could update the whole WordPress core remotely, they could also update those plugins — especially since those plugins are their plugins (Akismet and Jetpack). But this is just grousing; anyone who updated WordPress in the old days, by which I mean before about 2010 or so, isn’t likely to complain about the automatic (or is it Automattic?) core-update system.

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Purely as an experiment

I am something of a regular on Sunday night’s #blogchat on Twitter (8 Central; your timezone may vary), and so is Patrick Phillips, who about a month ago put up a post about closing comments after X number of days (in my case, X = 90). He’s against that sort of thing:

Since I know I have readers who’ll go back to get “caught up” with posts I’ve written over the past month or two, and since I intentionally direct them to older posts when the old posts contain relevant content to the new post, I’m against closing comments on old posts.

Here’s the culmination of the discussion we had:

I expected an immediate flood of spam, though it didn’t really start rolling in until Monday morning and the actual volume was only twice as much as usual. Still, if I’d gotten one comment on an old post, I’d have figured it was worth it.

I didn’t. So last night I reinstated the 90-day cutoff.

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Add new post, preferably elsewhere

Now here’s something I hadn’t seen before: “4 Solid Reasons Not To Write and Edit Your Blog Posts Directly in WordPress.” Of course, I had to check that out.

The first sounds reasonable enough:

[W]riting your blog posts in a Word doc gives you an instant back up copy of your original content! Wouldn’t you want that, just in case (God forbid!) something happens to your website and your site back up wasn’t as good as you thought it was?

Downside: Having to use Word. Although there are reasons why you may want to:

If you write for other publications, you often are asked to submit the content in a Word doc so the editor can format, upload and add images.

And what’s more:

Having a copy in a Word doc gives you instant access to repurpose the content you have already created … having it saved as a Word doc saves you from logging in and copying and pasting each time you need it!

If I were writing full-time, those few seconds might mean something to me.

This, however, is the one that’s fun:

[Unfinished drafts] do clog up your database, which could make it run slower and is a performance hit. That all depends on how big your database is; it has to be pretty big, like approaching 1000 posts and pages, to really notice the difference. But, if speed is money, then you’ll notice!

I approached 1000 posts and pages, oh, let’s say 14,000 posts and pages ago. The limiting factor has been, not the size of the database (about 72 MB), but the speed with which the Web server on Machine A talks to the database server on Machine B.

And if that’s not heretical enough, try this: the pony stories (see sidebar) are written in the WordPress editor. There are two reasons for this: I like it better than Fimfiction’s editor, and it enables me to maintain a Work In Progress blog without any effort. There are, incidentally, eleven versions of the most recent chapter.

(With thanks to CASUDI.)

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Impatient me

WordPress released 3.7.1 almost before 3.7 was dry; there were bug fixes, and I duly installed the new version here.

Or I could have waited:

With WordPress 3.7, you don’t have to lift a finger to apply maintenance and security updates. Most sites are now able to automatically apply these updates in the background. The update process also has been made even more reliable and secure, with dozens of new checks and safeguards.

Sure enough, two sites that I hadn’t updated to 3.7.1 as of yesterday had the new version automagically bestowed upon them last night.

Can I just say “Wow”?

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Imagine the themes

This site has been running WordPress for a little over five years, with about 36 hours of downtime. Not too shabby for a hundred bucks a year, I was thinking as I was looking toward the next yearly renewal; in fact, I mused, those idiots at healthcare.gov should have just installed WordPress — it takes a whole five minutes — and gone with that.

I was, as always, being sarcastic. But it appears I’m not the only one who’s thought this:

Of the 14 states running their own health insurance marketplaces, five — Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, Colorado and Hawaii — decided to use WordPress to power their sites. Other markets, such as Illinois, which selected a federal partnership option, also tapped WordPress. [While] these sites are far from perfect, they’ve performed much better than HealthCare.gov.

To the extent that they’ve performed at all, they’ve performed much better than healthcare.gov.

Automattic’s Peter Slutsky, who sitteth at the right hand of Matt, saith:

“The government spent $500 (+/-) million on this website — that’s a lot of money to throw at a problem and the problem clearly wasn’t solved. Whoever was in charge of the process — the contractor(s), HHS, the White House, etc. did not properly load test or beta test the website before launch. That probably wasn’t a good idea when you’re rolling out something this large and this important.”

And furthermore:

“WordPress is free, open source and flexible enough to power the majority of the state health care exchanges and upwards of 20% of the top 10 million websites on the planet. With the exception of some small glitches (normal for software), the state health care exchanges function properly.”

Besides, everyone knows how to debug WordPress: the first thing you do is disable all the plugins.

(Via Fark.)

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Mill demands more grist

Another reason why I still use this seven-year-old WordPress theme:

Readers sometimes “like” my posts by clicking a button that WordPress displays at the end of the post, and I appreciate that. In fact I very often like their posts too, but my security software (NoScript) goes off when I try to click “like.” Just to get to that point I must first temporarily allow a couple of urls to run javascript. Then NoScript warns me about a potential “clickjacking” attempt, and I haven’t been able to sort out exactly what that is and how to allow the link without allowing malicious links. Whatever clickjacking is, I bet it’s something I wouldn’t like.

Blogger and WordPress.com and, most blatantly, Tumblr have been trying to capture eyeballs by playing social-media games with “followers” and “likes” and whatnot, in an effort to make you think that you shouldn’t venture from their sandbox because those Other People can’t “like” you or “reblog” you. (There are actually only 19 original Tumblr posts and 487 million reblogs.)

Oh, and in case you were wondering:

A clickjacked page tricks a user into performing undesired actions by clicking on a concealed link. On a clickjacked page, the attackers load another page over it in a transparent layer. The users think that they are clicking visible buttons, while they are actually performing actions on the hidden page. The hidden page may be an authentic page; therefore, the attackers can trick users into performing actions which the users never intended. There is no way of tracing such actions to the attackers later, as the users would have been genuinely authenticated on the hidden page.

My readers may be reassured that even if I were evil enough to try crap like that, I wouldn’t have the tech smarts to implement it.

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Ducking and covering

Ten and a half hours of being beaten upon is no way to live. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot that could have been done about it short of fleeing, and I don’t flee well:

Our admin team is continuing to roll out the fix and monitoring where needed. They are confident the source of the connectivity issues are due to large-scale brute force attacks to wp-login pages. These attacks are overloading affected servers and the fix being applied will limit the rate these attacks are hitting wp-login pages. In addition to the fix that’s being applied everywhere, we’re also mitigating the attack by blocking IP addresses all around our data centers.

While they didn’t get too specific, it was most likely something like this that brought us down, and there’s a practical limit to how much you can harden something like WordPress without killing its usability.

It’s still slow around here, but it’s not dead, and there’s a lot to be said for not being dead — though it was two hours before I was actually able to log in.

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Get clicking

WordPress, for some reason, prefers to create a new dynamic page when you click on the Comments link, though there’s still some code in the base that supports an actual pop-up window. (Now and then I’ve thought about implementing it, but so many browsers today have pop-up blockers enabled by default that I just couldn’t find it in my heart, which is cold and flinty anyway, to go through with it.)

Bill Quick used to have Daily Pundit set up to do comments inline — click the link and they’d appear under the post automagically — but no more:

The problem is that they are apparently a major security risk. I spent most of yesterday trying to figure out how to do comments inline — all of them automatically appearing beneath the post — but with the newer versions of WordPress, this becomes quite difficult, and is beyond my coding skills.

I hadn’t heard this, but I tend to be suspicious of Ajax stuff on general principle.

So, unless and until I can come up with something that will actually work and not expose my server to constant hack attempts, we’re going to have to do it the way just about everybody else does: If you want to leave a comment, or read them, you’ll have to click through to do it.

Life is like that sometimes.

Oddly, I had inline comments — in read mode, anyway — more than a decade ago, but that was when the whole site was hand-coded and there were fewer black-hatted types trying to weasel their way in.

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Too old for linky love

One of the features of the current WordPress admin is a section called Incoming Links, which uses Google’s Blogsearch function to tell me who, if anyone, is linking here. Sometimes it works perfectly well; sometimes, not so much. Last I looked, I had four incoming links, one from this past week, one from last summer, one from 2011, and one from 2007.

In case you’re curious, that most ancient of links came from a formerly obscure local social blog that gets about 26 times my traffic. By coincidence — at least, I think it’s coincidence — they threw me some Twitter traffic today.

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Hardly a feature

You might have seen this lament on New Year’s Day:

Second time that’s happened on a YouTube embed. I have no idea what the problem is. It may not make any difference, but I’ve put it back without changing the screen size, on the off-chance that there’s an issue with resizing.

Well, no, there wasn’t an issue with resizing. Apparently in WordPress 3.5, the combination of iframe tag and scheduled post results in iframe data being deleted from the post upon publication. WordPress has declared it a known bug. I expect it will be fixed by 3.5.1. Until then, I need to publish any YouTube or similar stuff in realtime, rather than schedule it.

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Hemidemisemipanic mode

You may remember this from the end of November, way back in 2012:

I discovered that every last post — 12,700 of them — had been sheared of its category and tag information. Worse yet, the View All Posts function in the WordPress admin showed no posts to view. Despite this, permalinks were working and comments were being posted.

When it happened again, I literally cut and pasted my first support ticket into a new one. The problem was readdressed, but the tech suggested that if it continued to recur, I should consider moving to a server with more space, inasmuch as I’m running six sites off this account. After thinking this over for about 3.5 CPU cycles, I requested such a move, which was completed that evening. I have no reason to think readers will be affected by this, but if you see something acting sillier than usual (besides me), please let me know.

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Victim of Elvin

Final score, WordPress 3.5, Pejman Yousefzadeh 0:

So, last night, WordPress demanded one of its periodic updates. I complied, only to find out that I had lost my Visual Editor screen and my media buttons, all of which would make regular blogging here a pain. There may be some fix for all of this, but neither I nor the technical staff here at A Chequer-Board of Nights and Days — and yes, there is a technical staff — can seem to find one. What’s more, we are not inclined to waste time trying to find one when more productive things — like, you know, blogging — could be taking place.

He has duly fled to Tumblr.

I note for the record that following this update, my Visual Editor screen and media buttons are in their proper places. At least, I assume they are, since I never use them. (Maybe that’s the trick.)

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Semipanic mode

It was a busy morning at the shop yesterday, so I barely had enough time for a myocardial infarction when I discovered that every last post — 12,700 of them — had been sheared of its category and tag information. Worse yet, the View All Posts function in the WordPress admin showed no posts to view. Despite this, permalinks were working and comments were being posted.

Okay, fine. I’ll bring up phpMyAdmin and look at the database. “Like hell you will,” said the application. (Well, technically, what it said was “#1030 – Got error 28 from storage engine.”) A bit of poking around MySQL stuff, and I discovered a likely explanation: the /tmp directory on the server had so much crap in it that writes were being refused for lack of disk space.

Okay, fine, part deux. I’ll — um, no, I won’t, I don’t have a proper SSH client on this box. In the time it would take me to install (and recall how to use) PuTTY, I could turn in a trouble ticket, and so I did. Things were back to normal in about 45 minutes.

As it happens, the 29th of November is normally the day I renew the hosting deal for another year, so the first thing I thought, actually, was “Holy flurking schnitt, they’re taking me down.” Not so.

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Pesky children

I run several sites besides this one, devoted to even narrower niches. I was working on one Saturday night when WordPress spun the black circle at me, telling me there was an update — to the theme, fercrissake. Now I hadn’t done a whole lot of modifications to that theme, though I’d deployed half a dozen widgets in the sidebar, so I figured nothing much would happen.

And, of course, I was wrong. They’d added some nav buttons to the sidebar which duplicated the widget arrangement — and which pushed said arrangement a couple hundred pixels down the page. It wasn’t particularly difficult to restore the functionality I had, but it was something of a jolt. (The theme in use here is pretty much dead, development-wise; I screw around with it more or less ad lib with no ill — other than aesthetic — effects.)

So it looks like I’m going to have to study up on child themes, to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.

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Someone should have noticed this

While working on that Other Site, I discovered that my chosen theme, the one that I thought was most appropriate for what I was doing, had left a function out of the otherwise overstuffed stylesheet: it would utterly ignore italics, whether invoked with the old I tag or the newer EM tag.

I don’t know what they were thinking. I added the appropriate lines to the stylesheet, but I’ll tell you, it was the darnedest thing seeing those letters simply refuse to slant.

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With the new HaltGrinder app

Day before yesterday, two other sites I run had bogged down to slower than a crawl, while this one, which gets roughly 100 times the traffic of the other two combined, was whizzing along as usual. I assumed this was a cache issue, inasmuch as this site is cached and the others aren’t, so I duly installed a cache plugin, and, while I was at it, moved up to WordPress 3.4. The gain in speed was microscopic, and after sweating it for entirely too long, I turned in a trouble ticket to the host.

The response was quick, and somewhat unexpected. The nature of WordPress is somewhat bifurcated: you have your Web server, but most of what it’s serving is coming from a separate database machine. I had guessed that communication between the two boxes had been severed, or at least impaired, and when a couple of tracert runs timed out, I was sure of it. Well, no: the requests weren’t getting to the database because procwatch was killing them. It goes like this:

The problem is not necessarily with either of the domains you listed, but with any domain or combination of domains hosted under [user name]. If domain-A is using 99% of the allotted memory and domain-B uses the other 1%, it will be domain-B’s scripts that get killed, even though domain-A is the one using all the memory. (For this reason, it may be sufficient to simply split up some of your domains among multiple users.)

See “100 times the traffic,” supra. And, of course, being lazy, I’d set them up over the years under the same user name, failing to anticipate that for convenience in administration they might eventually put them all on the same shared server. (I don’t have the traffic to justify anything more than that.)

So new users were created, and behavior returned to normal in a matter of minutes. And I’ve installed a little gizmo that calls out the memory usage at any given moment, along the bottom of the admin screen. (Which, of course, uses some memory, but TANSTAAFL applies, as it always must.)

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Platform shoo

Blogger vs. WordPress shows up all the time on Yahoo! Answers, and I try to answer based on what I think the asker’s criteria might be. If what they want, above all else, is Spending No Money, I send them to Blogger, on the basis that I don’t want to have to explain why WordPress.com might cost them a few bucks now and then, and a self-hosted WordPress will cost them quite a few more.

On the other hand, if the choice is between Blogger and a self-hosted WordPress, I need only point them to this presentation by local designers CooperHouse, which considers ten criteria, six of which favor WP, three Blogger, and one that’s a wash. (Disclosure: CooperHouse’s own site runs on WordPress, though it’s a custom design rather than a standard theme.)

On the question of search-engine optimization, they give the nod to Blogger, on the following not-unreasonable basis: “Google indexes Blogger within 24 hours; Google indexes WordPress within 4 weeks.” Inasmuch as Google owns Blogger, the stuff’s presumably right there for them to grab. On the other hand, I’ve beaten that 4-week period for WordPress by three weeks, six days, twenty-three hours and forty-six minutes, though I’m in no position to say whether this is at all typical.

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Rhymes with “clogger”

Roberta X, not happy with the new Blogger interface, pulled off a successful rollback — temporarily, anyway. She remains not happy:

I quite dislike the new UI. I’m no good at real HTML and formatting in the new near-WYSIWYG editor baffles me.

When Blogger pulls the rug out from under for good, I am not going to mess with it if it becomes too annoying.

Can we talk her into migrating to WordPress? I’ll call this a No:

I have a WordPress backup — which I kept updated until Google/Blogger, as is their right, decided to pull the plug on that — and I’m not happy with WP’s UI, either.

I’ve made my peace with WP, mostly by avoiding the clunk-o-matic Visual Editor whenever possible; I’m no HTML genius — it says “Bad Example” right over there in the sidebar — but I’ve been doing it long enough to have developed something vaguely resembling technique.

And speaking of Blogger, they sent me a nastygram yesterday to the effect that my old account, used only to maintain a profile, needed to be migrated into the Google hivemind post haste or else. I made two attempts at this. The first errored out; the second, in which I made a point of not checking the “I have read the Terms and Conditions” box, breezed through the system in milliseconds. Lesson learned.

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Comment dehancement

I’d puzzled over one particular quandary for several days, and finally found an answer at Nicole’s:

I had no idea but apparently there is something happening with WordPress that makes commenting a difficult runaround for some folks. It seems it is largely being seen by folks who have Gravatars.

The workaround, of course, is unnecessarily complicated.

Oddly, the first place I ran into a problem with this was Equestria Daily, which runs on Blogger. But they’ve secretly replaced the regular Blogger commenting system with IntenseDebate, which, like Gravatar and WordPress, is another Automattic product.

No one’s reported a problem commenting here, perhaps because I’m not hosted at WordPress.com, or because I go to the trouble of suppressing Gravatars.

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