Resubscribe to my RSS?

A bunch of readers have reported various bugs to me over the past couple months since I switched over to Typepad for this blog's host. I used to have numerous RSS feeds from various systems at a bunch of different URLs. Since I used to host the site myself, I could redirect them all to the newest actual feed. Once I moved, those old feeds died and a few people have asked me why I haven't made a post since last summer. A few have also reported weirdness with my baked-in delicious links. Something about them showing up as new items constantly even though they aren't new.

The new forever feed for this site should continue to be:
http://feeds.feedburner.com/AWholeLottaNothing

If you're having any troubles, try unsubscribing to my feed, then resubscribe using that URL. Hopefully that fixes things right up.

Trying something new

I’ve been meaning to redesign this site for a while, to set aside more screen space for writing, both to make it easier to read longer pieces for readers but also to help me focus more on just plain old writing instead of all the other junk I used to keep here. As I sat down to think about how I could wipe out what I had and start over again visually, I kept coming back to all the cool WordPress themes I’ve seen lately, including the one you see powering this site.

Now, I would consider Ben and Mena Trott to be pretty close friends and I’ve helped write a book on Movable Type tweaking. I still use it for several other sites and don’t plan on changing, but when it comes to personal websites, I’ve always wished for a simple way to share MT templates either through actual files or the API. I’ve requested it from SixApart for the past 3+ years and in the meantime, WordPress came along with Themes and eventually every good web designer that wanted to see their work shared with millions flocked to it and started offering up downloadable Themes.

A few months ago when I was praising Vox I said I never wanted to work on another blog template file again and I was serious about that. WordPress has a great theme system and while I think editing php templates is an even worse idea than custom Blogger/MT tag templates, I don’t have to thanks to the thousands of free theme packs available online. I was somewhat reluctant to jump to WordPress until I saw some 2.0 screenshots and heard good things from longtime MT-using friends. The last time I used WP, I had a lot of problems with the admin editing backend. I noticed a few things have been fixed but a lot of things still got stuck.

Here’s a list of hang-ups I found when converting over. Some might read these and feel it’s nitpicking or criticism, but I consider these bug reports:

  • When searching google for info on importing a MT blog, I ended up at codex.wordpress.com with some instructions I followed only to find out the entire system has changed with the latest release. Since the docs are on the wordpress.com server, they should be updated to say “the following is for the 1.x version of WordPress, go here to see Importing tips for WordPress 2.x” or something like that. Adobe/Macromedia is great about this — anytime I hit an old Coldfusion docs page I see a pointer to the latest version of that page for the latest release.
  • I had to split my exported MT blog since PHP had a 1Mb upload limit on my server. That’s a drag (I had to ask a friend how to do that) and I wish it used the API instead.
  • To activate Akismet, it said I just needed an account (not a blog) at WordPress.com to get an API key, but I couldn’t get an API key unless I got a blog, which seems like a waste (and possibly a way to artificially inflate the subscription numbers at WordPress.com or something).
  • Plugins are activated in the Plugins area, but not set up there. Why? It makes no sense to me to activate something on one page, but have to jump to a submenu buried in the Options area to change settings on it. Why isn’t there a Plugin Options submenu in Plugins? And why instead is there a way to tweak the actual PHP of the Plugins? Does any normal user really need that? Oh, it looks like Akismet is configured in the Plugins area, but nothing else I’ve added is.
  • Where can I turn off comments by default on new posts? I don’t see it anywhere in the Options area (I found it under Discussion options, which I guess is more specific (though I would think putting in the Writing options would make more sense) though the checkbox describing it sounds confusing to me “Allow people to post comments on the article” when really I want a “comments enabled/disabled by default”. Fixed.
  • I don’t see anywhere to turn off or on Pings/Trackbacks system-wide or set defaults for it. Fixed.
  • The feedburner plugin I installed doesn’t auto-forward requests to Feedburner. I don’t think it works well with a pre-existing Feedburner feed. I’m going to have to edit my .htaccess or templates to do it. Fixed: it worked five minutes later.
  • Some custom styles (simple floats and margins) I applied to images in previous imported posts appear to be stripped on import. Dunno if that’s MT or WP’s doing.
  • After I publish a post, I get sent to a blank Write New post page. Why not jump me to the edit page on the thing I just posted? Also, I see that the Manage page still has the Edit screen linked on one teeny tiny link marked Edit. The “View” link made me think that would allow me to view the post in the Manage interface, but instead pops me out to the live post on my blog. Why not link the full title of the post to the editing interface? Why else would I be in the Manage section unless I wanted to edit/delete my posts?
  • Why isn’t the Categories widget expanded by default? Why do I have to tweak that every time I make a post? Why is “Uncategorized” an actual category?
  • In the wysiwyg interface, when you go to add a link, the popup has two buttons at the bottom, one to insert the link and the other to cancel. The Cancel button is on the lower right, where all the save buttons are located in WordPress, but you have to click the one on the left instead to actually save it. Intuitively, I almost hit cancel every time.
  • Widgets are kind of a mess. I had to download it and activate it like a plugin, then go to Presentation to edit (another weird plugin on one page, options on another). There’s no Flickr widget by default even though the first Google results for flickr widget say it is included. My other results ended up with 404s on download sites. There doesn’t seem to be a user-friendly widget gallery, as the plugin itself dumps me into some programmer widget trunk page which makes no sense.
  • My Archives page is a 404, and I have no idea where to find the actual page. Fixed.
  • The wysiwyg interface rewrites any custom CSS I try and add to an inline image. This is broken and needs to be fixed.

New Design Tinkering

I’m playing with a new design for this site. My old site was basically a “temple of ego” that covered just about everything I was doing online and when I stripped it all away to start over, I knew eventually I wanted to bring back a bit of the clutter.

I just started working on this CSS monstrosity and it’s only applied to the main index page at present, but I hope to refine it over the following week and mold it into something more attractive and orderly. For now, I figured I might as well redesign in public, warts and all.

Oh, and be sure to use Firefox or Safari to view it, IE/win can’t understand any of the first-child, first-line CSS nor any of the png backgrounds.

Spam a lot

About 14 months ago I started using Knowspam for email whitelisting, and I remember more than one person basically said “wow, email must be broken.”

While whitelisting is a bit of a pain on random strangers that email me, it does mean that I get almost no spam in the 50-60 emails I get every day. I noticed tonight that I’m getting closer to a million spams blocked since I started, at 844,904 to be exact. Divided by 14 months, that’s just a hair over 2,000 spams blocked per day.

Who knew? Email really is broken.

Ye Olde School

Jason’s latest retro feature reminded me that I too used to have a boring webcam on my site, and how folks used to setup multi-blogs with everyone’s webcam shot going down the side with their posts intermingled. You could probably do the same today fairly easily with RSS and a bit of hacking.

So anyway, there’s now a shot of me taken every 60 seconds from my office. Not much to see unless you work with me or IM me and wonder why I’m not answering (“oh, he’s not on the cam, so he’s probably eating or on the phone or something”).

I’ve long weighed the issues between private and public life and tried to strike a balance. Five years ago, I was all free software, free love, and free information. I practically had to be stopped from posting my SSN on my site. A few hard lessons taught me to scale that back, but it’s still my belief that deep down, once we all have blogs and all our thoughts and dreams are out there in the public database, we’ll be less prone to privacy attacks. If everyone can see everyone’s skeletons in their closet, they cease to be skeletons anymore.

At least that’s what I tell myself when I inevitably see someone save a webcam shot of me picking my nose.

No one can have nice things!

I was looking at an old blog entry here when I was surprised to find my first trackback spam. Free asian rape beastiality being offered directly from an old post! Then I dug around and sure enough, there were over 200 spammy trackbacks sent from January 5th through the 20th.

What’s funny about it is that I can see how someone built and tweaked their spam cannon. On Jan 5, a person started at (probably using it as an open proxy) 24.247.37.201.up.mi.chartermi.net and sent a couple test pings of gibberish, then when they realized it worked, they waited eight hours for me to delete them. When I didn’t delete anything the onslaught began, and over the course of three attacks, hundreds of old entries advertised all sorts of crap sites.

I read the recent interview with a link spammer and it sucks that people stoop to doing anything for a buck. So, instead of worrying about this any longer or having to check off 200+ delete boxes again, I turned off trackbacks. See you in hell, mr. jackass seo spammer who will never read this nor care.

The sleeping giant

Man, I didn’t know that my little late night blurb written mostly to myself would spark such a reaction. I guess I woke a sleeping giant or something. Dave is annoyed, Tom blames it on tools, and Andre wants more flexibility.

The funniest thing is I kind of called for this to grow last summer, and I never really thought about how it affects end users. I uploaded a gallery of 20 photos or so to flickr a while back and a couple people said the feed was overrun with the shots, so much so that they wanted a way to remove them somehow.

For the last few years, I’ve had a site filled with stuff that I recently wiped in the hopes of starting over. Ideally, I’d like to get something close to Leonard’s site, where all my feeds for separate services can live on one page, but there can still be a place to write longer text pieces like this one that dominate the space. I always envisioned One Feed To Rule Them All containing the parts from every sub-section, but after reading stuff like Dave wrote, maybe I’ll default to the text blog feed, with other feeds sepate and one megafeed that you could subscribe to, but that tools wouldn’t default to picking up.

Stinky links

A few friends started posting all their daily links to their blog like I’ve been doing for the past few months, and when I see their sites pop up into my blo.gs sidebar or my bloglines account, I get all excited that they wrote something, but then there’s a bit of a let down when I realize it’s another set of 4-5 links.

Then I looked at my own site, filled with ten posts of 3-4 dumb links and sighed. After five years of doing this, I never thought I’d be reduced to handfuls of interesting links sprinkled with a dab of jokey commentary. Maybe that’s what killed Anil’s site.

Down with FT

Quick, before it disappears behind the subscriber wall, you can read another article about blog ads, this time in the Financial Times. I’m proud of it because the reporter hit me at a cynical, bitter time. I had talked to three reporters from different outfits the previous week, all doing rah-rah “anyone can do this!” stories on blogs. So I unleashed a bunch of bile on the tech journalists’ attempts to fluff up the latest bubblet. Here’s me sounding like a pompous jackass:

Surprisingly, some of the most cautious notes are being sounded by bloggers themselves. Matt Haughey runs a number of blogs, the most famous of which is Metafilter, a vast community weblog whose members number in the tens of thousands: “Together, the ad revenue from all of my blogs represents a pretty decent salary,” he says, “but I’ve been very lucky. I’d like to stress that there are a few dozen people at the most who can be like this – everyone else will make $5. People are trying to make a bubble. Every article I ever read says that anyone can do this. But anyone can be Britney Spears.”