Hiatus Shmiatus

Back at the end of the August the server that was hosting brahm.windeler.net went belly up. Something went awry when the server was being moved by a sys admin and the hard drive just decided to give up the ghost. The people that I shared the server with and I are trying to go through a data recovery service, but it’s not looking promising.

Though I don’t have an exact backup of everything that was on the site, I do have the photos that were published on the site as well as all of the blog content.

I’ve been exploring my options over the past few months. Do I host my own site again? Do I go with hosted service? How much do I want to pay? What features are available on the various blogging platforms?

Since I was using the windeler.net domain for e-mail, my immediate action was to move the domain over to the free Google Apps to reduce the number of email messages that would otherwise bounce or be directed into the great bit bucket in the ether. I put up a placeholder page using the Sites functionality within the Google Apps framework, but it was obvious from the start that the functionality it provided was very bare bones and not really set up for blogging.

I also investigated using Typepad, as my blog was originally hosted using Movable Type, which is the blogging platform that Typepad uses. Initially the site would hang during the import because I had specified the wrong filetype encoding (what, you expect a common user to be able to tell if the file was encoded as MacRoman or UTF-8?). Once I determined the correct file type, I was able to import my blog posts just fine but was unable to import the corresponding comments. After many tries deleting and re-importing the entries, I gave up. This did not inspire confidence. If the code for importing their own export format was that buggy, I wasn’t going to spend any more time with it. Another factor was the fact that the free version was severely limited in customizability (2 themes… neither of which were particularly attractive).

After putting the effort aside for a few months, I decided to try to bring the blog up from the ashes again. I started researching if other people had also had the comment-import problem with Typepad. I didn’t come up with much, but did find a lot of pages talking about how to migrate to WordPress. On a whim, I decided to set up a free account and test the import functionality. I’m pleased to say all the posts and comments were imported intact. And I have to say the functionality that it provides is quite impressive. However, I started looking into what it would take to use a custom domain and found it would cost $12/year to do so. That seemed fairly odd to me, because technically all that should be required is to update the DNS record at my domain registrar to point to the appropriate IP or hostname. Additionally, if I wanted to customize the theme as much as I have in the past, it would require paying an additional $15/year. Blogging isn’t worth $27/year to me.

A few people I know have Posterous blogs, so I thought I would investigate that service. I exported my blog entries out of WordPress and imported them through their import tool. I used that method rather than importing directly from my Movable Type backup file because the import option didn’t seem to be able to import from a Movable Type-based site without the site already existing… not helpful when the site has gone bye-bye!

The import went smoothly again. Both posts and comments were added. I also imported two posts that I had written on my very first blog when I went to Malaysia back in 2001 (!) and thought I’d document my travels. I’ve come across a few hick-ups with the site not behaving the way I thought it should (mostly in relation to editing imported entries before merging them into the blog), but all in all I’m happy so far. Also, it’s completely free, I can use a custom domain for no additional charge (the DNS is updating as I write), and the available themes are all fairly attractive.

The one thing that I haven’t decided how to tackle is what to do with all of the broken links in the older posts. Any links that referred to other posts within the site or the photos that I hosted on the site point to non-existant items at this point. I may go back and fix them, though the thought of going back through ~270 posts to fix all of that is making me cringe. I’d also need to re-post all of the albums somewhere like Flickr or Picasa. I’ll probably just leave them as is for now and address them as I have time. For now, I’m just glad to have the blog operational again.

Site Redesigned

In an effort to get myself interested in blogging again, I’ve made some tweaks to the design of this site. I stuck with the lonely cloud image in the header, as there’s something about it that resonates with me, even nearly 5 years after I took it. I’ve also become a fan of blog designs that have a wallpaper-like background, so I modified one that I came across a few months ago on a tiling image creation site to fit what I had envisioned for this redesign.

I’ve also fixed a few things that have bugging me:

  • Styling of my recent Twitter feeds
  • The banner/background “seam” when the browser window was extended
  • Everything is now centered in the browser window rather than fixed to the left.
  • Upgraded to most recent version of Movable Type

There are a still a few “smells” that I need to take care of, including:

  • Using a proper tabber for the right-hand column
  • Re-evaluating the contents of the right-hand column
  • Re-enabling comments

Up Late Updates

Just wanted to share a few quick tidbits since I haven’t had much time to do so recently.1. Amelia started walking about a month ago. We’ve got some video, but due to the silliness of modern digital cameras and digital video editors, it’s been a pain coming up with a good way to rotate some of the clips we made in portrait rather than landscape orientation. Oops. I’ve finally discovered exactly what I’ve been looking for to resolve this issue: a plug-in for iMovie HD that can rotate and resize video… and it’s only $4.50! I’m just waiting for the registration code. Stay tuned.2. I also realize I haven’t posted many photos lately. I’ve got some that I plan to post soon… just haven’t had much time to go through them all yet.3. I’ve been spending many hours ripping out an aggressive ground cover from our flowerbeds called Goutweed in the time between when I put the girls down to bed and it gets dark. I’m not sure what the previous home owners were thinking in planting it, but it completely takes over the flowerbeds to the point where the other plants are hardly visible. No matter how much we remove, there’s always some that comes back. At this rate I figure in about 6 years we’ll _hopefully_ have it removed.4. I’ve finally gotten around to updating my We Endure training log after a few months of neglect (though not because I haven’t been exercising). It’s so nice not to see “2 months ago” in my sidebar widget.5. As a Father’s Day gift, Jennifer arranged for me to start taking guitar lessons through a local music shop. It’s actually been a great gift and something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, in spite of playing for about 10 years. I’ve taught myself most of what I know and have picked up a few bad habits here and there. I also have focused mostly on learning songs (or at least the interesting parts) rather than general technique, so the lessons have helped in that respect. It’s also good to have time set aside dedicated to it and motivation for practicing specific skills.6. Oh, and that Mango Black Tea from Trader Joe’s that I mentioned in the previous post makes fantastic sun tea. When iced, it reminds me of a lavender ice tea I once had at the Greystone Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa a few years ago.

Rebirth of Cool

After about a year of being offline, I’ve finally gotten my concert listing page back in service. The silly thing was that I only need to make a simple tweek to get it working again (Pollstar had changed the format of their pages slightly). I got to thinking how few concerts I had gone to recently, mostly because I didn’t know when the bands/artists I like were going to be in town.If any of you readers in the area are interested in going to any of these concerts, let me know! I’m more likely to go to one if I have someone to go with.I’ve also made an iCalendar feed available that you can subscribe to in iCal or another compatible calendaring program to make it easy to track the concerts.I’ve placed the links to the page and iCalendar feed back in the My Links section of the blog.

Continuing Bad Luck

In what seems to be a string of bad luck (more on that later), a number of databases behind this blog became corrupted while I was removing the comment spam from this past week. The cause of the corruption? The disk was full due to the massive amount of spam that SpamAssassin had accumulated while filtering during delivery (rather than just trashing it). How appropriate.After several hours of cleaning up the disk and working to recover the databases, it looks like we’re back in business. I even learned a little bit of Python along the way. Please let me know if you come across any oddities with the site.In the mean time, I guess we can look forward to putting a few system monitoring processes in place and might want to consider upgrading the server.

Reduction in Spam

I’ve been using MT-Blacklist to reduce the amount of comment spam that gets posted to this blog and it has worked pretty well. However, there’s always a bit that gets through that I need to remove manually. I then cut and paste the URL’s that appear in the messages and put them in MT-Blacklist’s filter list and run the despammer.A few weeks ago I started getting spammed with messages that didn’t have any URL’s in them and contained jibberish. I’m not sure why someone would do such a thing, as usually comment spam is used in an attempt to increase rankings in search engines such as Google by driving up the number of web pages that link to the particular site. Without a URL to look for, MT-Blacklist was basically useless.So as I manually deleted each of these URL-less comments, I ended up closing the posts to new comments and marking them as unpingable for trackbacks. Currently there are about 230 posts in this blog. I have probably closed about 15-20% of them to new comments. Unfortunately there is no easy way to close all of the comments at once. There is another Movable Type plug-in that can do this, but based on its description on the Six Apart plug-in site, it will only work with installations that use a SQL backend (not the default SleepyCat db option which I’m using).Regardless, I haven’t received much spam since I closed that 15-20%. I don’t know if the spammers are slowing down, if they were only targetting posts with certain ID’s, or if the random smattering of closed posts were enough to deter the spammers from trying to find open comments. Whatever the reason, it’s a welcome change. The time it takes to despam the site is time taken away from spending time with my family.

Spam Me Not

I got hit with a major web log spamming Monday night. Occasionally I’ll get hit with 1-5 spam messages in the comments at a time. Monday night it was almost 140 spam comments. There are a few things that irked me about the situation.1) I received no e-mail messages regarding the comments. I’m assuming that a backdoor has been discovered in Movable Type to allow posting comments without notifying the entry author.2) I’m running MT 2.64. The last free version before 3.0 was 2.661. I didn’t upgrade before 3.0 was released and now it appears that 2.661 is no longer downloadable. I’m assuming that maybe the backdoor was fixed in this later release but I’ll never know.3) I’m not sure if I really want to upgrade to 3.0 yet. It costs money for web logs with more than 3 authors (which would affect the.windeler.net). I’m still exploring other options.4) There’s no easy way to bulk delete comments. I’ve had to throw together a template to manage this (it’s far from ready for prime time, so I won’t release it to the public yet).5) There’s no easy way to bulk close commenting for entries. I think there may be a plug-in for this, but I think it relies on an SQL backend and I’m not using that. Looks like I’ll have to write another template for this.

Lone Cloud

Okay, so I decided to go with a larger overhaul than just the right hand column. The site probably looks a bit different than the last time you visited.I was starting to get a little tired of the old look and wanted something a little lighter. I got the idea for this theme from a mix CD that I put together recently. I made a cover for the CD from a photograph of a lonely cloud I took on a hike in the Sunol Regional Wilderness this past fall.The name “Invisible Elevators” came from the fact that the songs on the mix CD were mostly uplifting (though not necessarily in a traditional sense) and because they are songs, you hear them but don’t see them. The name described the cloud in that photograph, too. Somehow it was just suspended up in the sky by invisible forces. That’s all well and good for a collection of songs, but it doesn’t really translate to the web, as it is mostly visual. But I liked the name anyway and I’m sticking to it for now. 🙂