Post-Thanksgiving Status

A brief note on this year’s Thanksgiving break activities, and minor updates to this blog.

This year’s Thanksgiving break was just what was needed: four days of virtually nothing of import whatsoever. We spent the weekend relaxing at home, reading books (I finished four over the four days (all of which were old Star Trek novels…yes, it’s escapist fluff, but that’s the point, especially as the Star Trek universe is based on optimistic ideals, which is just what I need these days), and in doing so completed this year’s Goodreads challenge, which I’d had set at 52 books), watching Netflix shows and upbeat movies from our personal collection, and eating lots of good food. We didn’t even leave the house for three of the four days, only venturing out on Sunday to do our grocery shopping for the week and a little Christmas book shopping at Goodwill.

I did spend some time tweaking Eclecticism, now that I’m paying attention to it again. I removed somewhere over 1,600 posts from a period where I was mirroring every tweet I posted to my blog…it seemed like a good idea at the time, but just ended up dumping a lot of noise into the archives here. I’ve also re-enabled Google Adwords advertising. I’m keeping it minimal, as I don’t want to unduly annoy any visitors, but it’d be nice to get back to making a little bit of money off of my years of babbling (at one point a few years back, I was pulling in about $100 every three months…nothing major by any means, but enough to cover my hosting costs, which was all I was really concerned with).

And that’s it for now.

Eclecticism is Now Secure (HTTPS)

Thanks to Dreamhost’s Let’s Encrypt initiative, my site is now HTTPS enabled.

Thanks to Dreamhost’s Let’s Encrypt initiative, plus a little nudging while setting up the iOS version of Ulysses, the (simple but very powerful) editor I’m using for writing posts here, my site is now HTTPS enabled.

For those who don’t know the terminology, all that means is that all traffic between my blog and your web browser is encrypted, and cannot be read by anyone who might intercept the data stream in transmission. You don’t have to do anything, it just happens automagically in the background.

While there’s nothing here that really requires the transmission to be encrypted — I don’t sell anything or have any reason to ask for sensitive information, which is the primary use case (and why HTTPS is used by financial institutions, shopping site, and so on) — I’m increasingly of the opinion that it’s just good practice to encrypt whenever possible.

Think of it like sending a physical letter to a friend via traditional snail mail; there might not be anything in the letter that needs to be kept private, but I’d still be pretty disturbed if I got a letter from someone and saw that the envelope had been opened so that someone else could read the contents.

Of course, with electronic communication, there’s no ripped envelope to let you know that someone’s taken a peek at what you’re saying or reading. Unsecure websites (or emails) are more like sending postcards: while for most people it’s pretty unlikely that anyone between the sender and receiver would be reading the postcard, it’s entirely possible that it could happen. Adding encryption means that not only is there an “envelope”, but it’s an envelope that can’t be opened by anyone but the receiver.

Good security isn’t paranoia. Just a good idea.

(Incidentally, I’m also set up with PGP encryption for my email, and would use it more often if I knew my contacts were similarly set up. Just contact me for my PGP public key if you’d like to securely email me (I’ll get it posted here eventually, I’m just finding bits and pieces of my site that need to be recreated after letting it lie fallow for so long, and that’s one).)

So. Very. S…l…o…w….

At what point does the hassle of rebuilding stop outweighing the annoyance of a slow website?

WordPress has gotten, really, _really_ slow for me on this site, both on the outward-facing public side, and on the backend. I’m wondering if it might be a side effect of years and years of blogging (building up a total of almost 6,500 posts and almost 13,000 comments), plus trying various plugins here and there that probably often added extra fields to the database. I’m very tempted to do a full nuke-and-pave, exporting all the entries, building a brand-new WordPress install from the ground up, and then re-importing everything, but I worry about breaking all sorts of links (incoming, internal, and images) that I’d likely never have time to go back through and fix. At what point does the hassle of rebuilding stop outweighing the annoyance of a slow website?

Input-Only iPad

As the iPad _does_ have the capability to be far more than just a portable idiot box, it’s time to start taking advantage of that. I’ve got the iPad, a text editor, a nice little wireless keyboard, and a whole mess of lately underused grey matter rattling around in my skull. In theory, I should be able to put those together and, perhaps, get back in the habit of babbling on a semi-regular basis.

The iPad has lots of good creation tools, but it really does excel at providing a convenient way to veg out, and as much as I like having it, I think it has been more than a little responsible for my lack of blogging. Why take the time and effort to write anything when it’s so easy to kick back and let page after page of text and images flow past my eyes?

Meanwhile, I’ve neglected posting to Eclecticism; I have probably a few gigabytes of audio ripped from old vinyl waiting to be processed, imported to iTunes, and perhaps posted to Vinylicious; when I bother to pick up my camera, shots sit on the memory card for weeks or months, and then sit in Aperture for months before I finally get around to processing them and posting to my Flickr account; and who knows how many other projects have been left half-finished here and there.

All in all, while it’s been a busy year, on this level it feels like I don’t really have much to show for it.

So: As the iPad does have the capability to be far more than just a portable idiot box, it’s time to start taking advantage of that. I’ve got the iPad, a text editor, a nice little wireless keyboard (the onscreen keyboard works great and all, but it’s best for short bursts of text–tweets, status updates, comments, short emails, etc.–a real keyboard is much nicer for anything longer than one or two paragraphs), and a whole mess of lately underused grey matter rattling around in my skull. In theory, I should be able to put those together and, perhaps, get back in the habit of babbling on a semi-regular basis.

New Design

Initially I was just hoping to find a decent temporary placeholder theme until I had time to really dive into a full redesign, but as it turned out, I think I’m happy enough with this to simply declare it my new look (until I get bored again).

During my between-homework breaks today, I snagged bits of time here and there to see if I could slap together a new design for my site. Initially I was just hoping to find a decent temporary placeholder theme until I had time to really dive into a full redesign, but as it turned out, I think I’m happy enough with this to simply declare it my new look (until I get bored again).

I’ve wanted to simplify things and remove some of the clutter for a while, so I went looking for a nice, clean, single-column theme. After experimenting with two or three, I’ve settled on Satorii, by Felipe Lavin, slightly modified to fit my taste (adding the graphic in the background, switching to a serif font, and using my handwriting font for the site and post titles). I may do other tweaks here and there — I’m not thrilled with the footer at the moment — but that will come as I have time and inspiration strikes.

For the most part, though, this is what I’m going with from here forward. Nice, simple, clean, and easy to read.

Back (Sorta)

While I don’t really think that very many people noticed, something went all pear-shaped over the weekend and this blog disappeared for a few days. Thanks to some assistance from Dreamhost support, I’m back up and running…mostly.

While I don’t really think that very many people noticed, something went all pear-shaped over the weekend and this blog disappeared for a few days. Thanks to some assistance from Dreamhost support, I’m back up and running…mostly. Some of the plugins I used broke, and I’ve lost the customizing of the theme (including all the egolicious representations of me), so I’ll have (yet another) PROJECT to keep me busy once the quarter ends.

So, some minor frustrations. However, the content is here, and that’s the most important part. I was thinking that it was about time for a redesign anyway.

Lazyweb: Automated Crowdsourcing of Website Uptime/Downtime Tracking

Scan the tweetstream for variations on the types of posts people make when a service is showing signs of problems, display a regularly updated page showing statistics on problem reports for various websites and services.

Last night, Prairie and I were watching Bones on Netflix’s streaming service when Netflix suddenly stopped responding. In order to find out if there were service-wide problems, my first step was to turn to Twitter to see if there were any other people reporting problems — and as it turns out, there were. Reassured that it was a Netflix issue, and not something going wrong with my setup, we popped in a DVD until people on Twitter started reporting that things were working again.

It seems that using Twitter is becoming a more and more common way to get a quick handle on whether a particular website is having issues. This started me thinking about a website that could act as a simple, centralized tracker of uptime/downtime reports, gathered from real-time scanning of the Tweetstream. I don’t have the coding chops to do this, so I’m tossing the idea out to the Lazyweb in case anyone else wants to run with it.

The basic idea seems simple enough: scan the tweetstream for variations on the types of posts people make when a service is showing signs of problems. Basic search strings would be something along the lines of “* is [down|broken]” and “is * [down|broken]“. Anytime a hit is made on the search string, an entry is made in the database with the reported problem site and whatever might be considered relevant data from the source tweet (the tweet text, time/datestamp, perhaps even geolocation data for those tweets that are carrying it). Tracking reports of websites coming back online could be integrated as well, by watching strings such as “* is [back|up|back up|working]“.

The website would display a regularly updating display of downtime/uptime reports, one line per target website, with a series of stats indicating things like how recently the last problem or resolution tweet was recorded, the number of problem or resolution tweets found within the last 10, 30, or 60 minutes, perhaps a map showing geolocation markers that could indicate if downtime is widespread (indicating downtime at the website itself) or geographically targeted (indicating problems with a particular network, carrier, or ISP between the website and the Twitter users reporting problems), and whatever other data might be useful. It might be possible to use CSS to color-code lines depending upon variable such as the rate of problem tweets being found, too.

Anyway, that’s about as formed as the idea is in my head. If this sounds interesting to anyone else, feel free to grab the idea and run. If someone does build this based on this post, though, some mention or credit would be nice. ;)

Dreamhost Does Good

Ooooh. See those last few words? _That’s_ nice to see. ‘Unlimited disk and bandwidth, forever!’ No worries about storing large files (not that I tend to do that), no worries about surcharges on the (very) off chance that I get Slashdotted or Dugg. Just keep paying my yearly bill, and I’m set.

Since I’ve occasionally groused about the hosting service I get with Dreamhost, I wanted to be sure to mention when things go right, instead of only when things go wrong.

For a few months, the server that my account was set up on, and which hosts all three domains under my control, was being tweaky, resulting in sporadic downtime. I’d been building up a small library of downtime reports in my support page with Dreamhost, when last month, things took a turn for the worse…and then, soon afterward, for the better. Of course, I didn’t really know about the “for the worse” part until I got the news of the “for the better” side of things.

The last time my site went down, when I submitted the support request notifying Dreamhost of the downtime, they replied relatively quickly, letting me know that the server I was on had become “unresponsive,” and they were working on getting this back up and running. About half an hour later, my sites came back up, and I didn’t think much more of it. Until the next day, when I got the following…

This is just a note to let you know that we’ve moved your account to a new server! We apologize for the lack of notice, but this was an emergency move as a perfomance and stability measure.

Apparently the server I’d been on had gone seriously downhill, and had to be replaced, necessitating moving my account to new hardware (and hopefully all the other occasional downtime I’d had was due to the developing hardware issues, and I won’t get those again). Most of the rest of the message was covering anything I might need to do to ensure that everything worked as it should, and as it turns out, I didn’t really need to do much of anything, as the transition was seamless. Then, at the end of the note…

…again, we really apologize for the abrupt nature of this move! To try and make up for it a bit, we’ve also set your account to now have unlimited disk and bandwidth, forever!

Ooooh. See those last few words? That’s nice to see. “Unlimited disk and bandwidth, forever!” No worries about storing large files (not that I tend to do that), no worries about surcharges on the (very) off chance that I get Slashdotted or Dugg. Just keep paying my yearly bill, and I’m set.

Dreamhost, I’ve had issues with you from time to time, but this? This is good. Thanks!

Print Stylesheets Return

I’ve resurrected the print stylesheet for my site. Admittedly, I have no idea how often people print something they find here (and I would guess that it’s not very often at all), but at least now I know that if they do, they’ll get something useful.

One of my website pet peeves is the lack of attention to how a site behaves when printed. All too often, there’s either an assumption that we live in a truly online-only world, or simply a lack of thought about how any given page will look when printed. Consequently, there are a lot of websites that look like crud when printed: navigation links and ads all over the page taking up unnecessary space, content crammed into a narrow column, an extra half page of junk after the actual content ends, etc.

Some sites give a ‘print view’ link that produces a print-optimized version of the page, but I’d be willing to bet that a lot of people never see that — especially given the number of times I’ve had to actively hunt for such a link, and found it shoved off in some corner, not obviously tied to the content at all. Besides, having a specialized page seems like unnecessary overhead on the server when better solutions exist.

To that end — and this is a project that I’ve been meaning to do for a while (I never even got around to it with my last design) — I’ve resurrected the print stylesheet for my site. Admittedly, I have no idea how often people print something they find here (and I would guess that it’s not very often at all), but at least now I know that if they do, they’ll get something useful.

There’s an older, but still relevant, more detailed look at the techniques I use in this post from 2003, but here’s a rundown of the results:

  1. No navigation links below the website title.
  2. No sidebar at all.
  3. No comment entry form.
  4. No Google ads.
  5. The content fills the page, with a wider left-hand margin to allow room for binding.
  6. Rather than coloring links (useless on a printed page), the URLs display after the linked text, using Markdown style formatting.

The only issue I’m having is the same issue I had the first time I set up a print stylesheet: the code that inserts URLs after linked items borks up the clean display of inline images (for an example, try printing this post). I’m (still) stumped on how to exclude images from the link insertion code, though, so for now, I’m just going with what I’ve got.

The New Me

Last week sometime, I was brainstorming with ways to personalize the design of my site a bit while still working within my limited artistic and design sensibilities. On a whim, I emailed Shari to see if she might be willing to sketch a version of me that I’d be able to work into the design somehow.

Last week sometime, I was brainstorming with ways to personalize the design of my site a bit while still working within my limited artistic and design sensibilities. On a whim, I emailed [Shari][1], a comic artist whose blog I’ve been reading and whose artwork I enjoy, to see if she might be willing to sketch a version of me that I’d be able to work into the design somehow.

[1]: http://sharii.com/ “Shari Chankhamma”

Shari was kind enough to agree, and since I didn’t have a particular image or pose in mind beyond knowing that I wanted to be wearing a Utilikilt, I directed her to my [Narcissism][2] set on Flickr and let her go to town.

[2]: http://www.flickr.com/photos/djwudi/sets/1326981/ “Flickr: Narcissism”

A day or so later, Shari sent me a first set of preliminary sketches. There were a number of versions of ‘me’ that looked very promising, but down in the middle of the page was a funny little very anime-style version that she’d dubbed the ‘Valiant Camera Warrior’ which I got a big kick out of. When I wrote back to confirm that I liked the direction she was heading with the sketches, I also mentioned how much I enjoyed the Valiant Camera Warrior.

A couple days later she sent me the final artwork…and I was _floored_! Not only has Shari come up with an incredible comic version of ‘me,’ but she went ahead and inked the Valiant Camera Warrior as a bonus! I’ve worked the artwork into a few different places into the site design now, but under the cut are larger versions of her work.

Continue reading “The New Me”