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WordPress Woes

Posted 2009.11.20 13.13 in Computers/Internet/Technology by Stephanie

All in all, wordpress seems to be a very fine blogging and CMS platform. I’m generally pleased with it. There are just a few things which drive me up the wall.

Today there are two things which have been bothering me for a while. First is emails – I’m supposed to get an email when there is a new comment, or a comment awaiting moderation. That worked at first, some long while ago, but then it just stopped working one day. I also have this ‘subscribe to comments’ thing which is supposed to let commenters get an email when there’s a follow-up comment, but I figure that stopped working too – if it can’t email me, it probably couldn’t email anyone else either.

So today I finally got frustrated enough to do some digging and debugging. First thing I found was the PHP mail() function. Appearantly this was the culprit and needed to be tested. I tested it, and it worked like a charm. No problem. Hmm. More digging, more debugging.

It seems that perhaps with WordPress 2.8, someone decided that the mail() function was a wheel that needed re-inventing. So some low level behind-the-scenes thing that was hardly worth mentioning got tweaked, and mail stopped going out. I know this didn’t just affect my blog or my server, since there are dozens and dozens of threads, support queries,and me-too comments about other peoples’ blogs no longer sending mail.

Anyhow, I got a bigger stick, poked at it some more, and now finally it seems to be emailing again. Halleluya.

The other thing that is still bugging me, is a bug in the sidebar calendar.

From what I can tell, it only manifests when looking at a single-post page or an archives. Not a static page, not the home page. I just noticed it this month, where the first of the month is the first day of the week. For some reason, the padding is out of whack and buggers up the first line of the calander. It seems to affect other months at random though, with wierd results:

09-June 09-November

I can’t figure it out. I’ve checked and double-checked my theme files, I can’t see anything in there that could possibly be messing with the calendar. Yet everything else works. I’ve found that other people have reported the same problem, but without resolution.

I think there’s something buggered in the core WP files, but I can’t figure out what, or why it doesn’t affect other people. This one still has me stumped, and is going to be bugging me all the rest of November.

Updates & Plugins

Posted 2009.11.14 10.24 in Computers/Internet/Technology by Stephanie

A while back I ranted a bit about how updates seem to come one after another, and it got very annoying to update something only to have a new version come out the next day.

Lately it’s been pleasantly quiet. This morning though there was a plugin update. The plugin that drives my ‘Random Words’ on the sidebar. So I did the update – it didn’t seem to be a security update nor any additional functionality, but I don’t like that update reminder there infront of me all the time so I went ahead and did it.

Dang blast it, I followed the directions and it erased all the preferences. Grumble grumble damn and curses. I hate when that happens! Of course I don’t remember what the preferences were – little details like point size, colours, and all that. Plus, when I followed the update instructions the thing didn’t even work – fatal error. I don’t really mind the 5 minutes I spent fixing the bugs in the plugin, but the 10 – 15 minutes of screwing around trying to get the preferences just right, really ticks me off. Because I can’t get it just right. I don’t remember what the exact colours were before, and I can’t get it the way I like it.

Why the bleepity bleep do they have to delete the preferences for a minor maintenance type update? Crap and flying monkeys, but it pisses me off. 😡

Now every time I look at it, it’s going to annoy me until I get it just right.

Dropdown Menus & Site Maps

Posted 2009.11.10 14.07 in Computers/Internet/Technology by Stephanie

I just finished hacking up a plugin for my website here. With over 60 pages nested in levels and sub-levels, I’ve been worried that visitors won’t always know where they are on the site or what else is available.

A while back I added a sort of location indicator to pages, that helps identify where on the site you are. For instance, if you’re on the Snail Cam! page, then at the top of the page you’d see something like this: “Home » About Me » Snails! » Snail Cam!

So, that sort of indicates where you are relative to the top but still doesn’t show whate else is around. I’ve had a drop-down menu thing going on almost since the start, and it does show all the different pages, but it’s organized in hierarchical levels and you would really have to be hunting in order to find things. If you don’t mouse-over everything, you’ll miss stuff.

What I really needed was a site-map, and to put a link to it on the top menu bar so it couldn’t be missed.

Read more »

2,000 Spams and Counting

Posted 2009.09.07 9.45 in Computers/Internet/Technology by Stephanie

About a month ago, I made some changes to the way comments work here. Formerly, a Captcha needed to be decyphered to post a comment, and then every comment needed to be approved. I was aware that this was a less-than-perfect way of handling things, but those effing spammers have made life difficult for folks wanting to run a clean wholesome interactive blog.

Spam, spam, spamAnyhow, back to the changes. I knew my system was imperfect but it took some reading before I decided it was time to make changes. I removed the Captcha completely, and replaced it with Akismet. I also changed the moderation method so that rather than every single comment requiring approval, only brand-new commenters would have to be approved. Returning readers would get the green-light automatically.

In that time, Akismet has blocked over 2,000 spams from appearing, with only a single spam comment getting through – and even then, it did not appear on the site, it went into the moderation queue as a new commenter.

Now that comment spam is being effectively blocked, I find that it doesn’t irritate me as much as it did before. It still annoys, and I hate spammers with the passion of a thousand firey nuns, but now when I look in the spam queue, I find sometimes I get a laugh at some of the BS that these bots and lowlifes ‘write’.

Closing the Polls

Posted 2009.08.12 14.45 in Computers/Internet/Technology by Stephanie

Not long ago I asked for some feedback regarding the Share This plugin. Share This adds a little icon and text to every page and every post, which allows people to link the pages/posts with a number of other services. I personally never used it, but my two biggest complaints about it were that it is a bit of a ‘black box’ that depends on a bunch of resources that are stored at the Share This servers rather than on my own servers, and that it required visitors to my site to download a bunch of other stuff behind-the-scenes which led to a delay in viewing my site.

I did some measurements and found that on my site’s front page, even with well over a dozen graphics and photos and several thumbnails present, the Share This plugin was adding so much overhead that it doubled the bandwidth and doubled the rendering time of my site. The Share This script alone was the single slowest component of the entire site, and there was nothing I could do to improve that because the script is served from their servers, not mine.

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Captcha Out, Akismet In

Posted 2009.08.07 23.16 in Computers/Internet/Technology by Stephanie

I’ve been trying to streamline things recently, without opening the door up too wide for the ^*&%(@ spammers. Just to give you an idea of how much these bastards hammer the internet, I turned off the Captcha thingy on the comments, and in 30 minutes there were three spam comments in the queue. These aren’t people roaming around looking for blogs to pollute, these are programs that people (I use the term loosely) have created to slime around looking for blogs to soil.

A captcha helps stop much of the automated spam but it doesn’t do anything to stop spam created by something like a mechanical turk, and unfortunately, a captcha also tends to stop at least some real legitimate comments. Some people are turned off by them, or have trouble reading them.

I had been avoiding Akismet despite its free nature and being bundled with WordPress, because in order to use it you have to register with WordPress.com – and I don’t like registering for things that I don’t really want… it seems redundant to register with a hosted blog site when I’m self hosting everything here. Still, I want my blog to be as open and accessable as possible, but I don’t want to spend an hour every day going through dozens or hundreds of spam comments and trackbacks. So I’m giving Akismet a try, to see how it goes.

I’ve also retweaked the other settings (and fixed a flaw in my theme) so that A) previously approved commenters do not have to wait for moderation any more, and B) replies and comment threading now works properly.

Cheers!

To Share (This) or Not to Share (This)

Posted 2009.08.07 14.00 in Computers/Internet/Technology by Stephanie

So I’ve been waffling on this “Share This” thing. I’m not really up on this stuff myself, I’ve never used it, but my friend Lezley told me it was good and important so I put it on my site. The thing is, it runs entirely on the Share This server, so every time someone is viewing one of my pages, they’re also partially redirected to download stuff from the Share This site. And not just two words and a little logo either – it’s a lot of stuff.  Scripts, style sheets, a bunch of logos, who knows what else. Honestly, I don’t really like it – it seems strange and mysterious and opaque to me.

Most WordPress plugins are pretty open and upfront. I mean, if you can read PHP (which isn’t that hard if you just take your time and don’t let it scare you), you can look at the plugin and get at least a bit of an idea what it does. You can do that with the Share This plugin, but what the Share This plugin does is basically just tell your guests to load a bunch of stuff from elsewhere – and you can’t change that stuff. It’s some digging just to get to see that stuff, what with all the javascript voodoo and all that.

Aside from the opacity of its function and my lack of understanding of its purpose, there is the bottom line fact that it slows things down. I’m on a fast connection – but when I can see a noticable change in speed between Share This and don’t Share This, that gives me misgivings. In fact, if there is a problem and for whatever reason the Share This stuff isn’t working, it makes it look like my site is having problems.

So I’ve turned it off, turned it back on, off and on again. I don’t know what’s best. So I’ve made a poll, and I’m asking you. And, please feel free to comment as well.

Cheers!

The poll has been closed, with the votes in at 8 votes against Share This and 1 vote for it.