A dubious anniversary

It was on this day in 2006 that I restarted the Movable Type database. (This was the last post in the first MT database.) And it was two years and one day later when I washed my hands of it and switched to WordPress.

From that first post in the second MT database:

The most maddening thing, of course, is that during the Quiet Times, my traffic went up about twelve percent. Obviously I should post less.

So why start again? Well, for one thing, the old database, with seven thousand and odd items, was getting cranky. For another, it’s not like anything is missing: all the old posts are still archived and are available at their original URLs. And the last time I ran an export of said database, it clipped off at the 18-MB point for some reason, meaning that if I reimported it, I’d have to port over a couple months’ worth of entries anyway, and I’ve already put enough work into this thing.

The Quiet Times, incidentally, lasted less than 36 hours, and didn’t interrupt my run of Consecutive Days With Posts.

But this almost did:

For some incredibly-stupid reason, I decided to try to update Movable Type from 3.21 all the way up to 4.21 on 6 September 2008. It took four hours, and not everything is in place just yet: the comments popup doesn’t work, for one thing. (It may never work again; they said they were dropping support for it, and while I’m looking for a workaround, there’s a limit to how much I’m willing to put up with just to retain a feature.)

Also, until further notice, any comments that do come in will have to sit in the moderation queue until I have that rearranged to my liking.

But it’s late and I need some sleep and I’m not going to work on this mess any further until I get some. Sleep, I mean.

That was about one-thirty on the morning of the 7th. About 13 hours later:

There is a limit to how much I’m willing to endure, and some time today I reached it. We are now running WordPress 2.6.1. All of the old posts remain in their original locations; posts for this month were imported to WP and can be read here. It will be a while before I have links up to everything else, the way I used to.

Eventually, I moved all the posts from those two years. (The stuff from before 6 September 2006 is still where it used to be.)

I’ve had some scary moments in these six years, but I’m still on WordPress — now version 4.0.

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Site questions

New arrivals at the site are often perplexed: “This doesn’t look like any WordPress blog I’ve ever seen.” (In which case, you should see this one, which uses the same theme.) Perhaps your question is answered here.

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They make it up in volume

Over at Language Log, Mark Liberman finds a piece of comment spam worth quoting:

Ginger ultimately struck North Carolina on September 30 as a chinese culture massive disappointment.

The resulting embryo is afterward transported to tissue may occur, either acutely or chronically, over hundreds of times, sometimes with a little more.

This is right up there with the best ones I’ve received, though this remark of Liberman’s disturbs me:

Among the approximately 15,000 spam comments directed at LL over the past 24 hours, this is one of the few that made it past the filters to be dealt with by human moderation.

Fifteen thousand? In one day? And this estimate may be conservative:

That might be a low estimate — there have been 4,574 comments caught by the spam filter in the past 105 minutes, which would translate to 62,729 per 24 hours.

I don’t know how many of those might have been wrongly trapped, because there are far too many for me to check them manually, as I used to do when there were only a few hundred a day.

Since the fall of 2008, I have had 34,817 comments caught by the spam filter. Total. Admittedly, I draw a lot less traffic than Language Log — whose ancient WordPress theme, incidentally, is also my ancient WordPress theme — but still: 4500 in less than two hours? That’s scary.

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Codes revealed

I’ve never been a playwright, and probably never should aspire to be one, but I definitely relate to this:

I started using computers in 1984 at the computer lab at my college when I realized that I could actually use them as a way to write, save and edit the plays I was writing without having to actually re-type all 120 pages every time I made a change to bit of dialogue. For me this was nirvana. What you should know, though, is that I never took a course or had anyone actually teach me how to use those computers. I just walked in to the lab, asked for an account, sat down at one of the terminals, and sorted out that if I used a few commands like Center and Bold and JustifyLEFT I could format the entire document to print on the dot-matrix printer to look exactly the way I wanted it to look and if I remembered to actually SAVE everything, I could then go back and just edit the small bits that needed to be changed. For a playwright in 1984 who was writing lots of plays this was, well, revolutionary.

Of course, once you get in the habit of taking care of business at this level, something like this happens thirty years later:

I had no idea, none at all, that text actually wraps and formats for you. No clue. In my world, it has always been my responsibility to create a line break, a paragraph break, a page break, to justify things, to format the entire page of text on every single page of the Internet (no matter where I am, mind you) to look exactly the way I want it to appear before I hit publish. Do you know, really know, how freeing it is to just let the words flow and not to have to think at all about format?

I shook up a WordPress guru rather badly the other day when I said that no, I’d never used the WP Media Library for any of the three-thousand-odd graphics on this site: I size and resize manually, upload via SFTP, and code it in the HTML — not the visual — editor. The nature of Twitter is such that I couldn’t see her facial expression, but I imagine that it would have been the same one she would have given me had I told her that my lawn maintenance is performed by goats.

Note: It occurs to me, now that I think about it, that my lawn maintenance might be better if it were performed by goats.

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WordPress ahead

During the Pistons game last night, WordPress 3.9 arrived. (You may remember that 3.8.3 appeared a mere two days before that.) This version is named for the incredible Jimmy Smith, who was taking a walk on the wild side a decade before Lou Reed. I’m not entirely sure I’ve seen all the trickery from 3.8, or even 3.7, yet, but this is promised by Smith:

The updated visual editor has improved speed, accessibility, and mobile support. You can paste into the visual editor from your word processor without wasting time to clean up messy styling. (Yeah, we’re talking about you, Microsoft Word.)

I just felt a pang of whatever it is I feel a pang of whenever I have to contemplate anything in Microsoft Word.

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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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