OS Quest Trail Log #62: Mid-Summer Edition

A Desert Scene

We finally got the summer heatwave here in the eastern U.S. and it was a good time to stay inside where it’s air conditioned. All-in-all a good time for being at the PC. Even if the heat they generate make the air conditioning work harder.

Website Updates

WordPress 3.2 was released at the beginning of the month and the the inevitable WordPress 3.2.1 followed soon after. Between those two releases I trashed my just implemented site redesign and went with a new design which held truer to the previous design. It was made possible by possible by a time saving WordPress plugin.

Overall it’s gone pretty well with just a few speed bumps along the way. I still have a couple open issues. The most annoying is I can no longer use tools that connect via xmlrpc such as Windows Live Writer and MarsEdit. They just give an xmlrpc error when connecting. Google searches show a few potential causes with solutions. None of those solutions worked for me. The problem seemd to coincide with the 3.2.1 upgrade although it had been awhile before that since I used Windows Live Writer and there were a few other changes during that time. Usualy troubleshooting such as turning off all plugins and reverting to the default theme didn’t eliminate the problem So it seems to be a WordPress or server issue.

SpiderOak In – Dropbox Out

I finally got fed up enough with Dropbox and decided to find an alternative. There’s still nothing than Dropbox for syncing between mobile devices and computers. Especially since a lot of apps integrate Dropbox support. Still, I decided to go with SpiderOak and have been happy with it.

As Alan said in a comment to my post, Dropbox is the clear winner when it comes to syncing while SpiderOak is a clear security winner and better backup client. I decided to go with a paid account to have the extra space. I’ve been using it for backing up my Windows Home Server in addition to my Macs and Windows PCs. It’s been working well.

I’ve also been using it to sync and it’s been working but it only syncs after backing up which is a potential problem, although mainly during the initial backup phase where backups take a long time which could delay syncs. So far it hasn’t been a problem. I back up very little from my PCs while most syncing is PC to PC so the timing hasn’t been a problem.

I’ve also been testing it as a backup for my Windows Home Server 2011. I’m not particularly enthused that there’s no add-in or official server support. But at least SpiderOak did publish an article for getting it to work on a server and without having a user logged on. Although for the most part I have a log on session always open through RDP.

I still haven’t been using it long enough to be completely sold on SpiderOak, but I like what I see so far. Next step will be to try and get it working as a backup for my web server.

New MacBook Air and Lion

As I already mentioned, Apple sucked me into replacing my MacBook Air. I’ve had the new Air for just under a week and love it. It’s peppier than my older Air, naturally. For the most part that wasn’t a huge benefit and more power doesn’t let me read or type any faster. But I just built a couple VMs on it and there is a noticeable improvement there. Plus, as I begin to use it more I’ll be running more apps simultaneously.

I upgraded my old MacBook Air to Lion and the new MacBook Air came with Lion pre-installed. So far I’ve only used Lion on the Airs and have to say Lion seems better suited for a laptop with a trackpad and relatively small screen. The big trackpad on the Air makes Lion that much easier to use. I’ve yet to put Lion on any desktop Mac since I use trackballs with scroll wheels on them. To make matters worse I either share a keyboard/mouse with a Windows PC (through Synergy) or RDP into the Mac.

With any new software or upgrade I like to stick with any out-of-the-box settings for as long as possible. If for no other reason than it makes it that much easier to move from computer to computer. So I’ve been sticking with the Lion defaults. I got used to the scrolling quicker than I thought I would. Extremely annoying at first, but more natural in a day or two. I still scroll wrong every now and then but my muscle memory is learning the difference between a mouse and trackpad. I’m not sure I buy the argument that it’s “natural” but I do admit it makes sense and maybe someone who’s never used a computer would find it natural. It’s not like Apple didn’t understand the change. After firing up Lion there’s an intro video on scrolling and you have to pass a “scrolling test” before getting into Lion.

It took awhile but I finally got the new MacBook Air configured and can start using it as my daily computer. It’s time to format the old Air and ship it off so I’ll should get a better feel for Lion pretty quick. I don’t find the gestures or pieces of the interface all that intuitive so it’ll take some time to learn them.

Home Entertainment

In the last Trail Log I mentioned that my living room finally entered the 21st century with a LED TV. I added a LG BD570 Blu-ray player. The main reasons I picked it where the built-in wireless along with DLNA support and a USB port should the DLNA fail. I was pleasantly surprised that the streaming worked with Windows Home Server 2011 running on my HP MicroServer. I was a little concerned the HP wouldn’t have the processing power but it’s been working fine so far.

I have had problems with the LG player playing some of my video encodes. It’s not related to Windows Home Server since the files also fail when played through the USB drive. I’ve yet to figure out what the problem is as the files play elsewhere and I encode all my videos with the same Handbrake settings, yet only a few have problems.

On Tap

Coming up in August I’ll get more familiar with Lion. That’s unavoidable since it’s on my Air which is a PC I use every day, There’s a few website related things to work on – setting up SpiderOak for backing up and a couple minor issues.

Beyond that we’ll have to see what comes up.

OS X Lion and More New Stuff From Apple

Image of Lion From OS X Lion

Image of Lion From OS X LionIt’s tough to write about Apple’s new OS without a bad pun slipping through but I’ll try. Feel free to reach through the screen and slap me if one slips through. I wasn’t too excited about Lion in the lead up to it’s release, but once it was out I became more interested and  just finished installing it on this PC.

I got my hands on Lion last month for a little while and was basically frustrated. The reverse scrolling (but Apple says it’s “natural”) annoyed me and I turned it off since I knew my time was limited and I wouldn’t get used to it. I suspect I’ll be frustrated with it but am going to try sticking with it. I may give up since my desktop uses a scroll mouse and it’s completely frustrating on that. At least it makes some sense on a track pad. Still, been doing it this way for ever, why change now?

The other problem I had was with Spaces but I figured I was missing something since Spaces seemed to not exist in the form I knew it. I was missing something (not sure what) but Spaces is fine on this machine and works the way I’m used to using it.

I installed OS X 10.7 on my MacBook Air since the OS seems designed for it. Plus, it’s the least risky install as almost everything is plain vanilla without customization. I’ve been getting software updates for the last couple weeks, all claiming to make the software compatible with Lion. So while I still hadn’t done a thorough app review I was pretty confident.

The only problem I expected was with Microsoft Live Mesh, but Microsoft pushed out an update this morning (before I installed Lion) and it’s working fine. While I use Mesh on the Air it’s not critical and I could go without it. The upgrade only identified one app as having compatibility problems and it moved it to a new, out of the way directory. That app was Sugar Sync. To be fair I had stopped using it and it was probably an older version on the computer.  It never runs so it won’t update.

The upgrade was a bit disconcerting in that there wasn’t much to do. I bought/downloaded Lion on my Mac Mini and then stopped the install. I copied the installer to my Windows Home Server so I wouldn’t have to download it again, Then I simply copied it to my MacBook Air and ran the install. I agreed to the license but didn’t have to do much else. It rebooted to repartition the drive then did the install. I wasn’t paying much attention but it finished in under an hour (It told me it would take 35 minutes but I’ve no idea if that estimate was right).

It saved my Spaces configuration which made me happy. I’ve also successfully started and used VirtualBox (My VMs were fine – using one now), SpiderOak, TextExpander. Path Finder, Caffeine, Microsoft Live Mesh, ScreenFloat and probably others I can’t remember. I don’t claim they’re perfect, only that there were no problems in my normal use over a couple hours.

I’m not sure when I’ll upgrade my other Macs. My desktop Mac Mini uses Synergy which might have problems (rumor of some minor issues). Making it worse, I had problems getting Synergy going and I’m not using the latest version. So I’ll have to allow time to either troubleshoot it or roll back. As for my iMac that sits in the bedroom – I use Front Row on it and that goes away with Lion. Some early hacks to bring it over where broken with an iTunes update. I do have another app which I never bothered to install since FR was good enough for my limited needs.I’ll have to dig it out as all I want is something that can handle a remote.

I cringe every time I hear that Lion is the “IOS’ification” of Macs. That implies Apple is trying to make the Mac a big phone, the reverse of Microsoft’s (failed) attempt to make Windows phone look like a Windows Desktop. While Apple is certainly changing and simplifying the OS and there are features taken from iOS I don’t see them making it like the iPhone/iPad. That doesn’t mean I’ll like all the changes. They are certainly trying to make apps “just work” and avoid concepts like file and folder systems. They didn’t change the file system, but they are moving their own apps to not caring about structure. Hell, Finder has “All My Files” as a sidebar selection.

MacBook Air

The MacBook Air is easily my favorite computer.  Naturally Apple has announced new one. Even though my Air was bought this year I ordered it’s replacement. As a friend of mine says, if I don’t spend the money the government with eventually take it. My Air out performs it’s specs thanks to the SSD and I can’t say I’ve got any performance complaints. What made me push the buy button is the backlit keyboard. I use this a lot and often have to turn on a light (or carry a laptop light) simply for the keyboard.

And I was again sucked in by Apple’s marketing prowess. With my iPad, previous MacBook and my current Air I managed to stick with base models, unlike earlier purchases where I typically bought one level down from top of the line. With the Air I went right up the chain to the top of the line, I knew I needed help when I said “the i7 is only $100 more”. I did make one mistake there (only I didn’t cancel). I thought the i7 had hyper-threading while the i5 did not. It appears the i5 in the Air has hyper-threading. So my my remaining argument is that it’s for future-proofing.

The new Air is scheduled to arrive sometime next week and I’m looking forward to it.

There are some downsides to the Air but they don’t affect me:

  • Memory is limited to 4 GB (and if you get the stock 2 GB it’s not upgradeable – at least not simply by buying some chips.). I’ve had great performance with 2 GB, due to the SSD. So while 4 GB seems like a low ceiling, I’m not expecting issues with my expected usage.
  • It’s motherboard graphics only so memory is shared. Again, for what I do graphics performance has been fine. Although I’ll probably do more photo work and a little video. I’m not expecting problems.
  • It’s an SSD drive so relatively small capacity. My current Air has a 128 GB drive and I’m using about 1/2. I don’t have an iTunes library on here (the library is on my Windows Home Server) so that saves space. I do copy video over when I travel so that can take a few more GB depending on the length of the trip. In theory SSD’s can wear out based on usage. What this translates to in real-life I can’t say. I don’t do anything to limit writes to the drive so I may find out.

There are also the intangibles. The i7 probably stretches the cooling abilities to the max. I’m hoping that the new Air is enough like the old one so Apple has all the manufacturing and design kinks worked out. But I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of issues. Seems to happen with all new Apple hardware. Just hope it’s not me. At least I work near one Apple store and drive by a second on the way home so warranty service should be easy enough.

Other Shiny Stuff

Apple rally wants us to use the cloud (their cloud I’m sure). They’ve dropped DVD drives from their Mac Mini. I really like the looks of the Mac Mini and making it smaller may be a good thing for some. I often hear of them being put in small spaces or mounted in back of a TV. Still, I frequently use the DVD drive on my current Mini. Not for software, but to rip or watch DVDs. Yea, I know, I have iTunes – why have physical media? I still haven’t bought into using iTunes for video purchases/rentals. It’ll be easy for me to avoid a Mac Mini upgrade.

I really like the looks of the new 27” monitor and am lusting for one despite not having seen on in real life. But I still have my original 20” Apple monitor and it works well. While expensive, other monitors that look as good as Apple Monitors (to me) are also pretty expensive (but still cheaper). This one adds the ability to function as a bit of a docking station which is kind of nice. But what I’d really want is a monitor with a slot in back where my Air can be docked and out of the way while I use the monitor and attached keyboard/mouse. Less desk real estate this way. If this monitor had that I’d probably be trying to scrounge up another grand before the bill for it came it.

Anyone else upgraded to Lion or a new Mac yet? What do you think of it?

SpiderOak Backup First Glance

While I don’t have an immediate need for “cloud” syncing, now that I’ve dropped Dropbox I’ve started looking at alternatives. I’ve been using Windows Live Mesh and it’s been working fine, The main benefit to me is that it can sync between computers without involving the internet. This works well for large video files where I don’t want to burn the bandwidth and also for files I just don’t want or need on the internet.

But after thinking about this some more there are some things I might want to sync to the internet, or update while I’m on the road. SkyDrive can provide this ability but has the same limitations as Dropbox – it’s not encrypted by me. This isn’t a problem in many cases but having to keep track and think about encryption seems to be asking for trouble as it would only be a matter of time before I slip up. Along those same lines (me slipping up) having to remember to encrypt before uploading wouldn’t be a good idea,

SpiderOak came to my attention awhile back when I was looking at possible backup solutions. It has the benefit of being cross platform (Windows/Mac/Linux). SpiderOak’s features include syncing and sharing in addition to backup. Another must have feature is that they encrypt the files on the computer before sending them and they don’t have the encryption password. (I do have to take their word that they don’t nab the password.)

SpiderOak offers a free 2 GB account, just like Dropbox. Additional storage is $10/mth for each 100GB increment. This is cheaper than Dropbox but more expensive than many other backup services. Especially since you pay for 100 GB no matter hove much you use. There is a discount for pre-paying for a year.

The features that drew me to try their free 2 GB plan were:

  • Local encryption on the PC and only I have the password.
  • Backup (or sync) can be continuous or can be scheduled.
  • Directories can be synced between PCs and like Mesh they don’t need it be in a set directory structure.
  • iPhone/iPad App
  • Paid plans include 2-factor authentication.

What I don’t like so far:

  • The account password is the encryption key (technically it’s not the actual key but it can be used to unlock the files). I’d prefer I’d be allowed to enter a key that’s different than the password. They say as long as I access their site through the client software that the password is never sent to them. If I access through their website the password is sent to them and kept in server memory for the duration of my session.
  • Only files being backed up can be synced. This means I can’t realistically sync large video files between PCs, so I’ll need to continue using Mesh for this.
  • It’s pricey, especially if I’m well below the 100 GB increment. Other backup options are generally cheaper although may have some limitation (number of PCs, local drives only, etc…).

Since SpiderOak also runs on Ubuntu it would be a backup option for my web server. The drawback to this is the cost since the 2 GB plan would be too small so I’d have to buy the 100 GB plan. Since this doesn’t really give me any benefit over my current backup method I’m unlikely to go for it.

Initial Impressions

SpiderOak seems to be a better choice than Dropbox except in the area of 3rd party app integration, especially for the paid plans where SpiderOak is half the cost. As a pure backup solution it’s a bit pricey unless you need all it’s features (cross-platform, no device limits, external & remote drives allowed, unlimited file history) . The bite is a bit less if the backup is close to the 100 GB available (or whatever 100 GB increment you pay for).  If I actually had close to 100 GB to back up the price would be comparable to Amazon S3 (using reduced redundancy storage). But my current backup to S3 is only about 10 GB. Amazon does charge for more than space so my costs are closer to the SpiderOak charges as I have a lot of transfers, but it’s still less than SpiderOak in actual dollars.

I set SpiderOak to sync my Bento database to see how it handles a OS X bundle (seems fine so far – but backing up after every session) and set it to sync my Windows Live Writer drafts (like this one) and I was able to move across PCs. I’m still using the default to do automatic backups & syncs which may create more traffic than is necessary but we’ll see. I have had one problem so far – the app crashed on my MacBook Air while I was setting up a sync, Other than that there haven’t been any issues.

I’ll try setting up some more syncs and try some iPhone access to view files. There’s a series of PDFs I like to keep on my iPad for reference so I’ll see how SpiderOak handles those. I have a hard time justifying the cost so I probably won’t rush to test the backup features since if I actually liked it I’d have to pony up the money.

It’s only been a couple days but so far I’m happy with SpiderOak and look forward to continuing with it.

Anyone have experience with SpiderOak?

Skimlinks

Skimlinks logo

Skimlinks logoAt the beginning of July my state (Connecticut) changed their tax law to incorporate an “affiliate tax” (aka Amazon tax). Naturally, most affiliates simply dropped me and along with all their Connecticut affiliates. While I don’t make a lot of money on this site I would like to cover the hosting charges. So it was necessary to find some alternative income sources.

What I came across was Skimlinks. In short, it’s a service that converts regular links into affiliate links. They also offer a second service, called Skimwords, that will add affiliate links to regular text but I haven’t tried that service. Skimwords already had Amazon and Newegg in their program and these were two sites where I did most of my linking. The main benefit of Skimlinks is I could link to wherever I wanted and if they were a Skimlinks affiliate then it would be turned into an affiliate link.

I did have to go through and replace my old Newegg affiliate links with regular Newegg links since Skimlinks won’t rewrite existing affiliate links. Although they did make a recent change to optionally allow rewriting Amazon affiliate links which saved me from having to find them all and change them. The option is off by default but easy enough to turn on.

Skimlinks itself is implemented with a snippet of javascript and there’s a WordPress plugin available for WordPress websites. There’s also install guides and a few plugins for other popular platforms. Overall, it seems to be working well.

They have another feature, called Skimwords, that will add links to a website based upon settings. I’d prefer to do all my own linking so I haven’t tried this feature. While it does convert links to affiliate links, at least this way I’m still in complete control of where those links go.

I like that I didn’t have to change the way I do my links and can keep linking to the same places I did before since I stick to linking to places I use or frequent myself. In general, they take a cut of the affiliate commission so the payout to me could be less than if I had a direct agreement. But they do have preferred merchants where they payout is comparable due to their own agreements with the merchant.

I probably wouldn’t have found it if I hadn’t lost my affiliates but if your in one of the growing number of states that are changing their tax laws and affiliates are dropping you then it’s worth checking out.

 

WordPress Plugins I Use

Blue WordPress LogoWith the site redesign I figure it’s a good time to run through the WordPress plugins that I use. I try to keep the number of plugins to a minimum, looking for simplicity. With my interim design attempt I was up to 27 plugins (up from 15), which is one of the things I didn’t like. Even though I’ve added some new plugins, I also eliminated some so I’m still at 15 plugins after the site redesign.

For compatibility information – I’m using WordPress 3.2 and running the the Catalyst Theme.

Tried and True

These a plugins I’ve been using for a log time and they’ve served me well.

Akismet – an anti-spam plugin that shipped with WordPress (at least it did when I started). I haven’t had a need to switch.

Contextual Related Posts – This displays the related articles at the bottom of my posts. I’ve looked at other but this seems to give me the best results.

Fast Secure Contact Form – The provides the contact form on my About page. The plugin is actively updated and has features well beyond my needs for a simple contact form.

FeedBurner Feedsmith – I’ve used Feedburner since before it was acquired by Google. This plugin redirects the site feeds to Feedburner without having to do any coding.

Google XML Sitemaps – A plugin that automatically creates and updates site map files whenever a WordPress post or page is updated. This is one of my “must have” plugins, so much so that I’ve donated to the author to keep things going.

Hyper Cache – A caching plugin that’s server me well over time. I switched to it when a previous plugin had compatibility problems long ago.

No Self Pings – I do a lot of linking within my site and this plugin stops generating trackbacks that link within the site. Prior to this plugin I used to go in and delete them manually.

Ozh’ Who Sees Ads – This plugin allows hiding certain elements (usually ads) to regular visitors. A regular visitor can be defined within the plugin.

Redirection – I started using this plugin long ago when I did a major site redesign. In addition to being able to manually set up redirects this plugin will monitor posts & pages for URL changes and automatically add redirects to handle any URL changes.

New Kids on the Block

These plugins are recent additions to my website.

Google Analyticator – I use this plugin to add the code but not track my own visits. The plugin also adds a Google Analytics widget with the last 30 days of stats into the admin panel.

Mint – I used Mint Analytics long ago and decided to give it a try again. Mainly because it puts the site stats on my server under my control. This plugin adds the code to my website. I modified the plugin to ignore my own visits since it doesn’t do that out of the box. Ultimately I’ll look at including this code directly since the plugin doesn’t do anything beyond adding the line of code needed but it was quicker to go the plugin route.

Official StatCounter Plugin – Another analytics service I’m trying out is StatCounter and this plugin adds their code to my site. It can also be set to ignore my own visits. The plugin also integrates the StatCounter website into the WordPress admin panel.

Recently Popular and WordPress Popular Posts both keep track of which posts get viewed the most over time. Since both require collecting stats over time I’ll run them in parallel for awhile and will eventually pick one.

WPtouch Pro – This is a paid plugin that provides the mobile version of my website.

Ready When Needed

These two plugins aren’t needed all the time so stay deactivated until needed.

Regenerate Thumbnails – A huge time saver during the redesign, Allowed me to re-size all the thumbnails in about 10 minutes.

Simple “Coming soon” And “Under construction” – A plugin that allows logged on users through but shows a Coming Soon or Maintenance page to all others. Useful when doing maintenance or firs building the site.

Any plugins you’d recommend in place of these, or in addition to them?

Dropping Dropbox

Dropbox Logo

Dropbox LogoDropbox has been in the news quit a bit lately, first a minor rewording of their policies to clarify that they could access files when needed generated some buzz. Then they screwed up an upgraded and completely removed password protection for about 4 hours. Then they again reworded their policies and had to tweak them after a backlash.

Now I never considered anything in Dropbox as private or secure. And their privacy policies simply re-iterate what I already assumed to be true. (Although their latest change seemed to be a little far-reaching in order to protect them and relied on a “buy we’d never do it” attitude and that’s what they backed off on.) Anything I put “in the cloud” I assume will be public unless I encrypt it locally before I send it up and only I have the key.

Any company can have a bad run (re: Sony) but it is possible to avoid these types of things. Dropbox seems to have entered the mode of “do first, ask forgiveness later” which also seems to be the strategy of Facebook and others. It just seems to me that it’s time for this attitude to have consequences. In addition to unanticipated access to the files to get information, I wonder how log it will be before someone uses Dropbox (or a similar service) to distribute malware?

I’d been a paid Dropbox subscriber but switched back to the free account even before these events.  It’s not like Dropbox will suffer any by losing my account.

So what replaces Dropbox:

I started off by uninstalling it from my mobile devices just to make sure there wasn’t a forgotten use for it. Then I stopped Dropbox on all my PCs. I moved my files to locations that made sense, since they no longer needed to be in the Dropbox folder structure.

Once the files were were I wanted I set up synching with Microsoft Live Mesh. I’d already been using Live Mesh across all my computers and it was working well. All my synching is computer to computer and Mesh handles that well. There is the Skydrive option if needed. I like Live Mesh because it can avoid the internet altogether and doesn’t require a pre-defined folder structure.

The lost features include mobiles device support and deleted file history, neither of which I use. Plus, Dropbox just worked and other developers were tying into it. That made it so easy to use (and potentially easy to but info out there that should be encrypted). I looked at SugarSync awhile back but had problems with it. But it looks like Windows Live Mesh will work, as long as I don’t come up with a need for mobile device sync.

Blog Redesign Take-Two

Well, my weekend redesign/server move seemed to go well. But then I did a couple posts and tried to implement a few tweaks and things began to go downhill. My main problem was I picked the wrong theme for how I wanted to maintain this site. I used WP-Clear by Solostream which was a theme I liked the look of and it had some nice features. It wasn’t a bad theme and it actually suited the reason I picked it. The problem was – I had the wrong priorities.

I’d was moving from the now obsolete Frugal theme. I opted not to move to it’s replacement – Catalyst. My reason for not moving was that my testing showed there was no quick upgrade path if I wanted the same design. My thought was I wanted to spend less time on design and more time on content. Catalyst advertises 800+ settings available through its interface. I never counted, but it seems like a reasonable number. Plus it provides an easy way to inject code. With this many options I’ve been poking at it for weeks and yet up with something I liked. So I picked Solostream figuring it would quickly give me a good looking website. And it did. And I was happy. And I launched the new design.

And then I realized I didn’t want a fast, good look. I wanted to tweak and code. I found that the things I wanted to do in WP-Clear required going in and changing code in the template. Plus I was approaching 30 plugins to do the things I wanted without having to add code. That was asking for problems down the road when it came time to upgrade. And eventually I’d be forced to upgrade if only to keep up with WordPress.

So it was back to Catalyst. And the migration wasn’t as bad as I thought. Being forced into it made me do some more research and I found the Regenerate Thumbnails plugin. This was a huge time saver for the biggest problem I faced. Being able to re-size the thumbnails easily meant not being locked into the current design until I spent considerable effort redoing all the posts. In about 10 minutes I had all the thumbnails resized. Some of the original images didn’t look good after cropping but got me most of the way there. I decided to crop rather than maintain proportions as I want exact sizes going forward. Even though I may only use the plugin once it warranted a small donation since it solved a huge problem and seems to be the only one of its kind out there.

Once that was done it was pretty simple moving forward. It took some effort to cut out some plugins and replace them with some code. Catalyst makes it easy to add code and make changes since it’s a framework that support child themes which is where my changes are made. Plus it has numerous hooks to add PHP and HTML code without having to change files. And for things that need changing there are separate files for custom changes. The custom files don’t get overwritten in theme upgrades. The problem was figuring out the code, not implementing it.

I still have the problem that Catalyst is so customizable and powerful that I could (and do) spend hours and days lost in the tweaking.

Some things I could easily do in Catalyst that weren’t easy in WP-Clear:

  • The homepage has both a feature article and a list of the latest posts. While WP-Clear could do both I couldn’t find a look I liked without digging into the theme files themselves.
  • WP-Clear had pre-configured spaces for ads but I couldn’t find a way to limit ads so that regular visitors wouldn’t see them. (I define a regular visitor as anyone who’s viewed 4 pages over the last 30 days)
  • One of the things I liked in WP-Clear was the ease of highlighting the latest posts in selected categories so I carried that over to the new design.
  • Maybe it was me, but I couldn’t get Google custom search working right and I was having a heck of a time making the built in search look the way I liked.
  • Since I couldn’t easily add code I wanted I was forced to use plugins. Twenty seven at last count, while now I’m down to 17. All those plugins brought overhead I didn’t want. I didn’t do any timings, but I had a heck of a lot more scripts running and some parts of the site felt slow to me.

Intense Debate is gone. I made an attempt to use Intense Debate. Mainly hoping it would help reduce spam comments. Since I was unwilling to restrict comments just to people who have logged on this had the opposite affect.  When I got home tonight there were 22 comments awaiting moderation and all were spam. I suspect requiring a logon would resolve this but with the native WordPress comments and the Akismet plugin I still get the spam comments, but they get automatically moved to the spam folder and eventually deleted without me having to touch them. I haven’t noticed a problem with false positive for spam. With Intense Debate I was concerned I’d miss a legitimate comment in the haystack of spam. On the plus side, comments made while Intense Debate was running were preserved as promised.

Backups are good. In my haste to make some changes I actually destroyed all my databases on the server. Well, actually I restored some rather old  backups as I tried to restore a completely different DB. Luckily I had a backup from the night before and while I lost some recent design changes I was able to recreate them rather quickly after the restore. I also changed my backup strategy to avoid these fat-fingered overwrites in the future.

So apologizes if any of you visited and got the maintenance banner, or just saw some grossly unformatted page, but the dust has settled and I think things are working fine now.

WordPress 3.2 Released

The upgrades keep right on coming for The OS Quest website. WordPress 3.2 was released today and I jump right in and updated this site. At this point there’s been so many changes I won’t know where to start if something stops working. The stated focus of this update was to streamline speed-up WordPress. Check out the previous link to see all the changes.Or view the Trac database to see all 402 closed tickets.

Some key changes are:

  • Dropped support for PHP 4. PHP 5.2.4 is now the minimum requirement.
  • Support for IE 6 was dropped (I hope no one regrets this change).
  • Dropped support for MySQL 4. MySQL 5.0.15 or greater is required.

I upgraded all my sites through SVN but was notified and prompted to upgrade through the dashboard. It was necessary to upgrade the database once the files were upgraded. The database upgrade prompt came at the first site access after the upgrade so be sure the visit the admin dashboard after upgrading. The SVN upgrade command is:

svn sw http://core.svn.wordpress.org/tags/3.2/ .

The above command assumes it’s executed from the WordPress installation directory.

Mobile Device Support

Along with the site redesign I also added support for tablets and phones. If you access the site from a mobile device you should see the site optimized for the device, although you can switch to the standard view anytime by click on the “Switch to…” link at the bottom of each page. Less than 5% of visitors come from mobile devices, but that’s only going to grow.

There were some caching problems early on but those seem to have been resolved