Category: Weblogs

  • And We’re Back

    After a short 101 days of downtime, is back. Sorry about that.

    The very ancient VPS that the site was on died one day and never came back. I figured that it would be a huge pain to bring it back online but it actually went pretty quickly.

    I brought up a new box at DigitalOcean since I had been meaning to try them out. It’s still early but I’m definitely impressed. I ended up moving all of my small utility box stuff off of Cloud Servers and on to this new box as well.

    The first thing to do was to bring back the old blog back up on the new box with a new web stack (Nginx instead of Lighttpd) with nothing but a MySQL dump and my web content. Once the database was loaded, content put in place, and configuration updated I was good to go. Aside from the fact that it pretty much just worked in its new home, the thing that blew my mind about WordPress was that the upgrade from 3.1.2 circa 2011 to 3.8 was about as quick and simple as it gets. I followed the instructions and was on the latest release in literally 10 minutes.

    There’s definitely a lesson to be learned there in how to delight and amaze your users as we write our software. I was delighted and amazed as a user and humbled as a software developer by this collection of PHP files that “just worked.”

  • On the internet, everyone can hear you scream

    When I first read this story on techcrunch about Grand Central snubbing customers and changing their numbers with very little notice, it seemed like the kind of thing that was affecting thousands of users. Perhaps it was a problem on the same scale as the recent Skype outage. That’s a big deal right?


    The problem affected exactly 434 users.

    As explained by founder Craig Walker in the comments of the techcrunch post, the problem occurred when one of their partners stopped providing service in a particular part of the country. They were able to port the majority of customers to a new provider but were unable to do so for 434 people.

    Unfortunately two of those 434 people had a blog. Then it got picked up by Techcrunch and all of a sudden it’s not a problem that affected 434 people, it’s a problem that affected the entire internet.

    It’s unfortunate (for Grand Central and Google) that some of those 434 people were in Northern Virginia. The blog per capita there is off the charts. If those 434 people had been in rural Iowa, the internet would have never known.

    That brings me to the other takeaway from this incident: When designing a product or service (especially for alpha geeks) you have one and only one chance to get it right. You’re never more than one power outage, one service outage, one information breach, bad decision, misstep, misquote, or mess up away from loosing your customers or potential customers forever.

    Are people going to remember that this issue affected 434 people a few months down the road? Nope. The conversation will go something like this: “Grand Central? I dunno about them. I remember hearing that they changed phone numbers on a ton of people after promising them ‘one number for life.’”

  • Pardon the Dust

    Sorry about the short outage there. I finally consolidated the various co-location, shared hosting, and virtual private hosting services that I was consuming every month in to one VPS account. I still have some legacy URLs to do some rewrite magic for, but the archives back to 2002 is here.

    Because my new box is very Django-oriented, I am now running WordPress via PHP5 (FastCGI) and MySQL5 on lighttpd behind perlbal.

    One of the things I really enjoyed about the move from WordPress on Apache with a really gnarly .htaccess file for URL rewriting to lighttpd was the simplicity of it all. Getting WordPress to “just work” for me on lighttpd was as simple as adding a 404 handler for the site:

    server.error-handler-404 = "/index.php?error=404"

    Everything should be smoothing out shortly and of course the eventual goal is to move this blog over to Django trunk. I did just that a few months ago but I need to revisit the code, find the importer, and give it a lot of layout love.

  • Where 2.0: Madmen or Pure Genius?

    While drooling over the O’Reilly Where 2.0 conference schedule a week or so ago I noticed that except for a few keynotes, panels, and lightning talks, every talk at the conference is exactly 15 minutes long. At first I thought that O’Reilly was off their rocker, but if I had to play the odds, I’d have to bet that they’re on to something.

    So almost all presentations are 15 minutes long. That means that there’s a good chance that I can figure out what each person is going to talk about by reading their blurb and possibly googling their name or (more often than not) heading over to their blog.

    That’s the motivation for me to attend if I can pretty accurately guess what each person is going to talk about? Actually, I’m not. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to go (and I’d give my left kidney to attend the Google Geo developer day), but I just can’t justify $1500 plus travel and lodging. To be fair it would have been $400 less if I had hopped on the early bird special but it still would have cost more than I can afford to blow on a conference.

    Per usual, this conference will have an insanely high concentration of really smart geo geeks, so there’s lots of hanging out to be done between conference sessions. I also really like the idea of having lots of 15 minute presentations in a single place rather than “tracking” sessions in several locations. Invariably I miss something really cool at a conference because there’s something else I want to catch at the same time.

    I’m not sure how proven this conference format is, but I hope that it works. Except for the price tag, Where 2.0 almost has an “unconference” feel to it.

  • We’re Moving to Kansas!

    No really, we’re moving to Kansas. I’ve accepted a position at World Online, the online division of the Lawrence Journal-World. I’ll be working on some award winning sites including,, using my favorite web framework: Django.

    I’m really excited about working with an awesome team of people doing some really cool stuff. And of course I’m completely stoked about working with Django on a daily basis. I’ll talk about what I’m up to when I can but there will be times when I have to keep my lips zipped. I guess now might be a good time to mention that this is my personal weblog and that views/opinions/etc expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

    Needless to say I’ve been a bit busy with getting up to speed at work and planning the move. I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time now and had to delete a completely out of date post that I had half written while in Lawrence. Blogging will probably be light until things settle out, but in the meantime keep an eye on my links.

    Strap in, Toto!

  • Skipping Startup School

    I managed to get past the hall monitors and was accepted to Startup School but had to skip it due to scheduling. I’ll be keeping an eye on the blogosphere and the notes that come out of the daylong event. I was particularly interested in attending as a guy who is constantly on the edge but doesn’t always realize it until similar products or services come out a year or two down the road. I did moblogging back in 2002 on my POS WAP-only Sprintphone and have worked on countless other small projects. Every once in awhile I reminisce with Russ about that big new thing that he or I had tinkered with but not got off the ground a year or two ago. I was definitely looking forward to peeking behind the curtain a bit, but hopefully some attendees will be kind enough to write up their experiences.

    In other news, you might get an idea of what Aaron and Infogami is up to if you visit the Startup School Wiki

  • IT Conversations Seeks Python Developers

    Doug Kaye is looking for help in putting together an open source podcast uploader program:

    This is an open-source project to create a client-side application for encoding, normalizing and uploading audio files to the Conversations Network content-management system’s FTP server.

    See the requirements doc for more information. Can anyone lend a hand?

  • Mike and Chrissy

    Away and Married

    Congratulations are in order to Mike and Chrissy. Yesterday, as you can see from their away messages above, they got married. I’m so happy for them and I’m so glad that the day went so well. The weather could have been a little nicer, but everything else came together perfectly.

    Congrats you two!

  • Dissapointing Serenity Box Office Figures?

    I was hoping that the box office figures had been estimated low yesterday, but according to Yahoo! Movies, Serenity brought in just about $10M over the weekend. It’s really sad that flightplan kicked its butt at $15M. I didn’t get a chance to see it over the weekend, but it’s definitely on my list. I’m hoping that buzz builds and this coming weekend is even better. I’m not counting it out yet, I’m just a little dissapointed that the hardcore fanbase didn’t manage to bring enough friends along to boost the box office numbers any more.

    I can’t help but remember that the spectacular (IMHO) Final Fantasy debuted at $11.4M and took Square down with it. I’ll chip in my $9 as soon as I can, I promise.

  • RedBox: Huge Bang for My Buck

    Last night we wanted to kick back and watch a movie at home but didn’t have anything interesting on the shelf. We decided to head up the street to our local McDonald’s which has a redbox kiosk near the front door. We poked around for a minute or two then selected our DVD. I swiped a credit card, filled out a quick form with the touchscreen and a DVD popped out of the slot.

    As long as you bring the DVD back by 10pm the next day, it only costs you a buck. Redbox keeps hitting your card a buck a day for 25 days. If you haven’t brought it back by that point, the DVD is yours.

    I’ve got to say that the experience was quick and painless and is a heck of a lot of bang for a buck a day. While we don’t watch enough to make a Netflix subscription worthwhile anymore, a buck a day every once in awhile is definitely worth it. I hope that redbox is making money and expands nationwide, because this is addictive!

  • Busses

    Busses in NOLA

    I’ve been keeping up with the efforts and citizen reporting of a team of datacenter employees on the 10th floor of a building in New Orleans for the past few days. While I was catching up today, I had the pleasure of watching some 23 busses on their way to the Superdome and convention center. I thought I’d share this high moment with you, though there’s a lot of dispair to go around.

  • Congratulations!

    Mike asked the question and Chrissy said yes. Congratulations you two!

  • WordPress Trackback Validator Plugin

    I just saw the WordPress Trackback Validator plugin fly by my aggregator and immediately installed it. I knew Dan online back in middle school, so with this endorsement, I installed it instantly:

    The Computer Security Lab at Rice just released the first public version of the Trackback Validator plugin for WordPress blogs. Since I’ve been using it, I’ve had 100% classification accuracy on Trackbacks (read: every legit Trackback makes it through, not a single spam Trackback). Maybe Trackback isn’t quite so dead after all.

    The system checks to make sure that the URL of the trackback links to your page. This reminds me a lot of Sam Ruby’s feedback mechanism. As a bonus, there’s a great use of sparklines in the plugin page.

  • Rob Curley Blew My Mind

    A few days back I listened to this IMA Keynote by Rob Curley on IT Conversations. It blew my mind. I started out looking for some insight in to the team behind Django, The Lawrence Journal-World,, and so on. I got a whole lot more than I had bargained for.

    If you’re involved in old media, new media, any media, or just want a glimpse of the future (I hope), please have a listen. It will be very interesting to see what happens in the next few months as Django takes flight, Rob heads to Naples (with technical backup from Eric) and Adrian telecommutes to The Washington Post

  • Scuttle the Shuttle?

    It may be painful to be left without a means for Americans to get in to space (aside from bumming a ride on a Soyuz), but something needs to be done and quick. I would hate to see the shuttle fleet mothballed immediately, but that might just be the best thing for space travel in general. This AFP story on Yahoo! News puts in to words a lot of thoughts I’ve been having about the shuttle program lately.

    At this point in the game plan we’re going to be without our own means in to space between 2010 when the shuttle program finally expires and 2014, the earliest that I could imagine the CEV and cargo carriers might be ready. Here’s what NASA engineer Homer Hicham has to say:

    “The space shuttle is … never going to be reliable no matter how much money, time and engineering careers your throw at it. Let’s put the shuttle on the shelf right away and give engineers the gift of designing new ships to carry humans into space,” he said

    The current next-gen plan seems like a duct tape solution, but given the time and budget restraints I don’t see an alternative. All of this stuff is a total downer for a sci-fi geek like me, and I’m just hoping that China announces serious plans to put a man on Mars by 2020. Short of something like that I don’t see us taking space exploration very seriously at all.


  • Don’t Ask if You’re Not Going to Use It

    I was impressed that Matan had managed to get Bochs running on the PSP and thought I’d spread the word a little bit. I hopped over the Engadget and filled out their hot tip form.

    Engadget form

    They didn’t pick up on it last night so I thought they were going to take a pass on it. Lo and behold, they posted about it this morning. I checked it out hoping for a Thanks, Matt link, but no love.

    That kinda bums me out. I wasn’t expecting credit for the tip, but when I saw we’ll give you credit for the assist I thought that was pretty cool. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still look towards Engadget and others for my tech fix, but I can’t help but feel that they’re not keepin’ it real.

    Update: Hey thanks for the comment, Peter. I had a feeling that it had just fallen through the cracks or something. My bummed out thoughts have been more than cancelled out by the fact that he found his way to this lil’ ol’ blog and left a comment.

  • Yahoo! News RSS Thumbnails

    I noticed that throughout the day several Yahoo! News RSS feeds that I subscribe to gained a small thumbnail on the left hand side of each entry. It really does a great job of adding a little context to the story and it’s great to have a visual aid while skimming my aggregator. Nice touch!

  • Feed Fixed

    Sorry about that, when I downloaded WP-HashCash I aparently included a few extra lines at the end which made my feeds not validate and didn’t work in Firefox. It’s fixed now though. I’m going to try this instead of Spam Karma 2 for a bit. It seems to be doing a good job so far, but let me know if you have any trouble leaving comments.

    (Thanks for pointing it out, Mike!)

  • When Text Ads Make My Eyes Bleed

    Text Ads are a beautiful thing. There are now many fine purveyors out there for you to choose from: Google’s AdSense, Yahoo’s YPN, BrightAds by Kanoodle, BlogAds, and I’m sure a bajillion others. The aparent thought process among many out there is “if one text ad good, two must be great, and 4 would be perfect!” I think the opposite is true.

    Text-based advertisements on the web work so well because

    1. They’re almost always targeted well. Text ads are powerful because of their context.
    2. They don’t “get in the way.” You don’t have to punch the monkey.
    3. They often add value to the surrounding content. If they’re well targeted (see #1), the ads may provide the exact information a reader is looking for.
    4. They don’t make my eyes bleed (see previous reference of punching the monkey).

    The problem with text ads is that you can’t just cram them in to every nook and cranny of your weblog and just sit back and cash your checks. Actually, I guess you can, as I discovered in a post by Barry at Search Engine Journal (via Jeremy). Barry has 3 rather large AdSense blocks in his main content pane (they’re all of the square/rectangle variety) and a BlogAd on the left column. At first glimpse (after I cleared the blood from my eyes) I had a hard time discerning content from advertisement. I hate to pick on Barry, because he’s definitely not the only one doing it.

    Please, use text ads sparingly. I know there’s a lot of temptation to just fill ‘er up, but while that might bring in more money, it’s going to start costing you readers. I tend to shy away from eye-bleeding websites be they big or small. I’ve grown far too acustomed to tuning out annoying ads on sites that I value, but I can only tolerate it up to a point.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I use and love text ads on this weblog. I do try to use them sparingly and I also try to shield my regular readers as much as possible. Most of my regular readers catch content via my RSS feed, in which no ads appear. Anyone who types in to their browser will see nothing more than one small text ad below the header. Internal referres see the same. I show a much bigger ad to people coming in from external referrers, since a vast majority of those are via search engines, and they tend to be big clickers.

    I’m never going to become a millionare by using text ads as sparingly as I do. I may even experiment with another ad in the sidebar or below the main content. These little ads do however cover my hosting costs, with a little extra on the side for the “gadget fund.”

    So please, think twice before making my eyes bleed.

  • Is Content Self-Publishing the Next Step for the Blogosphere?

    After hearing about Lulu through Erika Dreifus I couldn’t help but browse around the site. What I discovered was a treasure trove of self-published and publish-on-demand books, calendars, and music. There is everything from Matt Raible’s Spring Live published by SourceBeat to Herman the Homeless Hermit Crab by Scott Fisk, an awesome little childrens book available in paperback for $7.99 and in PDF form for less than a buck

    Seeing this broad range of quality professional content, sometimes priced quite affordably in ebook form, I couldn’t help but think that this is the next direction the blogosphere might take. It makes perfect sense if you think about it. There are so many talented yet rather obscure writers on the web out there that know a whole heck of a lot about what they write about.

    If every domain expert (or every average joe who knows a good bit about a topic) out there were to publish something and make it available in print or PDF at a reasonable price, we might just have something. The Long Tail goes on and on.