Archive for July, 2006

Responsible Practices

July 29, 2006

Blogger One Button Publishing makes it so easy to setup and maintain a very attractive, organised, and useful website. Anybody who knows how to turn the computer on, practically, can have a Blogger blog. And anybody who knows a minimum about computer coding can have a customised Blogged blog.

And that’s one of the biggest problems with Blogging. As easy as it is to customise a blog, it is just as easy to screw it up.

And the more that you depend upon your blog being online, the sorrier you will be when it’s not. Even in businesses, this risk exists. In businesses, though, we practice risk management. You can, and should, do likewise.

  • Backup your blog. Have alternate copies of everything, in various formats.
  • Test your changes. Don’t wait for your friends to alert you to your mistakes.
  • Troubleshoot your problems. Maybe you can solve the problem yourself, and maybe not. But find out.
  • Use peer support. If you’re not living totally on the edge, chances are that someone else has already seen your problem, and may have a solution.
  • Report your problems. Some problems can only be resolved by involving Blogger Support. It’s their program – give them a chance.

You should not expect that your blog will be online 7 x 24 x 365 – outages are to be expected. Nor should you expect effective and immediate support by Blogger for all of your problems. But with a small amount of planning, and proper IT practices, you can minimise the inconvenience and the pain when an outage occurs.

Plan for Outages and Down Situations

Think of all of the ways that your blog could be down, or less than fully functional. A little preparation could go a long way the next time something happens. Either you, or Blogger Support, can make mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not doing all that you could be. But learn from your mistakes – if you make the same mistake twice, you’re not learning.

  • Mirror your blog, online. Use the WordPress import utility, and make a WordPress copy of your blog.
  • Mirror your blog, locally. If you have a local mirror, when you need to reference content, or show off your blog, you’ll be better off than having nothing.
  • Backup your template. Your template is such a small bit of code compared to your blog as a whole. But for its small size, it affects the entire blog. If you customise your template, having a copy (or two) will save you a lot of trouble the next time you make a mistake.

This list is not intended to be all inclusive, so if you have any other concerns not addressed above, please let me know.

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Blog Name Availability Problems?

July 26, 2006

When you setup your blog, and elect to publish to Blog*Spot (as many do), you decide upon a name (xxxxxxx.blogspot.com). The “xxxxxxx” must be unique – that is, nobody else in this world can use the same “xxxxxxx”. You type your choice, the Blogger script checks for its availability, and tells you one of two things

  • This address is not available.
  • This address is available.

If your desired address is available, you’ll see the latter message. You can now continue with template selection, and your first post. As soon as you publish your first post, your blog (xxxxxxx.blogspot.com) becomes visible on the Internet, and is registered in DNS.

But how does the Blogger availability script decide if the address is truly available? Does it check its internal database, and make sure that nobody else has selected that name, but not yet published? Or does it maybe ping that address (ie reference its DNS entry, as you would do, when you ping)?

ping nitecruzr.blogspot.com

If the Blogger script uses DNS to verify availability, here is a big problem. There is a possible latency period, between selection (verification of availability) and publishing (actual claiming of address), when it’s possible for someone else to also select that address. If you select an address, and somebody else selects that same address before you publish the first post, one of you will publish first. The second one publishing, to the same address, will overwrite the blog first published.

If you are selecting a desirable blog name, one that’s short and easy to remember, it’s possible that someone else would like to use that name too. If your name is based upon current events, you can bet that other people are thinking of those same current events. And if you’re using Blogger, you’re not alone. To see how active Blogger is, look at the Blogger Recently Updated Blogs list, which is constantly updated, and shows the last 10 minutes at any time.

It’s also, remotely, possible that the Blogger script has a hole in it. Maybe it’s identifying addresses as available, when they’re not, and identifying addresses as in use, when they’re actually available?

This is an odd situation, and may be coincidental. Maybe it’s been a problem for a while, and just is becoming visible because of lowered noise in the forums. Or maybe it’s a new problem. Who can tell, other than Blogger Support? In some cases, this might even be confused with Blog Hijackings.

Anyway, here are several cases, where there is something strange about name allocation. You be the judge – are these coincidental?

Help Solve The Hijackings

July 25, 2006

Every week you read about another blog being hijacked. Yesterday, there was a blog. Today, a splog. How did this happen?

One of the problems with the above list is that nobody knows if it’s complete. Nobody really knows what is happening. All we can do is report the problem to Blogger Support. Sometimes, Blogger Support can resolve the immediate issue – the individual hijacked blog. But they have yet to report back, and let us know what the hell is going on.

The individual blog owners don’t help a lot either. They see the problem, they report the problem, the problem is fixed (their problem is fixed), they go back to blogging.

If you know anything, and aren’t telling what you know, then you are part of the problem.

If you know anything about the above issues, and are not writing about them, then you are part of the problem. If you are one of those directly affected, then you are obviously part of the problem. If you have a blog, you may be part of the problem; until this is solved, you may become part of the problem at any time.

The solution to the problem begins with you.

Make Your Visitors Happy

July 24, 2006

This is a complex subject, but it starts with one rule.

Get all of the valid hits that you can.

I’ll restate that, in more obvious wording:

Get all of the hits that you can, but make sure that they are valid.

If someone clicks on your URL, make sure that he lands right on an article that answers his question. If the details answering the visitors needs are not provided in that specific article where he lands, add a paragraph

In most cases, the above should be sufficient. Sometimes, you might also want to look at this topic, for more ideas.

Don’t just lure your visitor into your website, and expect him to search for the answer. If he’s coming off a search hit list, he probably has other alternatives. When you see a 1 page view, but know that you had the answer to the query somewhere, that’s what just happened. And you just lost a possible customer – and future bookmark.

Another option would be putting a search query box on your website. Many visitors, though they don’t see the answer in your article, will still think favourably of you if you provide them a convenient search box. Google will even provide you a search box which will target your website, but you need to be indexed by the Google search engine, first. Once that’s done, get the Google Free WebSearch for your blog.

This is where knowing your visitors becomes essential.

When you have spare time, browse thru the SiteMeter and StatCounter logs. Look for Referring Pages and Search Engine Hit entries. Ask yourself two questions.

  1. What was the visitor looking for?
  2. Did my article provide him what he was looking for?

If question 1 provides a definitive answer, then make sure that question 2 can be honestly answered

Yes.

If question 2 must be answered “No”, or even “Maybe”, see the above advice.

You want repeat visitors. Make sure that the visitors that find your site leave happy. Link to other posts, or even other websites, if the article that they land on does not contain their answer.

Note: Having shown you how to make your visitors happy that they have landed upon your website, please avoid the deceiptful strategy of Amazing Bible Studies. You want repeat visits? Provide advice, and content, thats relevant, valid, and useful.

Corrupted Templates

July 24, 2006

My Blog Is Missing! Oh no! Generally, this refers to a deleted or hijacked blog. Other times, part of the blog is there, and the other part is not. This may be similar to the dropped post / sidebar problem, except there’s garbage on the screen, or maybe the screen is blank. What now?

If you’re lucky, the last time you published your updated blog, the publishing got interrupted. This will be more often seen when publishing to non-Blogspot blogs, but can happen with Blogspot too. If that’s what happened, you’re in luck. Just republish your blog again. And next time you make changes, always test afterwards.

If a simple republish doesn’t fix things, try restoring your template (you did backup your template last time you made change, right?), then republish. If you didn’t back it up, then you’ll have to go into the template editor, Pick new, and republish. Sorry.

If that doesn’t do it, then you’ll have to have Blogger Support restore your blog from their backup. You do have a mirror copy of your blog, to verify its completeness when they do restore, right?

In most cases, though, a simple template refresh will solve things. Hopefully from backup.

Setup WiFi – And WPA – Carefully

July 23, 2006

Setting up a WiFi LAN is a great experience. The convenience of surfing the web from your back yard, or sharing files between your main computer and your music server, without running wires here and there, is exhilarating. But there is stress involved.

When you connect a computer to a WiFi LAN, with WPA (and WPA-PSK is absolutely the minimum security measure that you should – no must – take), you are testing a number of things, simultaneously.

  • The WiFi router.
  • Your computer.
  • Your WPA setup.

Now if you do this carefully, and with a small amount of preparation, the whole project can take an hour – or less. Plan it wrong, or make a mistake, and you could be days figuring out the problems. Use a layered strategy – similar to layered testing.

  1. Get each computer connected, by Ethernet, to each other.
  2. Setup, and copy, a key set to each computer.
  3. Get each computer connected, by WiFi, with no security.
  4. Setup WPA on the router, and on each WiFi client.

The different WiFi router vendors have different ideas what type of key their WPA security should work with. Steve Gibson’s GRC “Perfect Passwords” Generator will give you a choice of 3.

  • 64 random hexadecimal characters (0-9 and A-F) (not case sensitive):

    1DBE12287EC82B22233C74B356BAC5E4EDC1447168B5F5A9C985C154220E0568

  • 63 random printable ASCII characters (case sensitive):

    Hb+r#^S-T/1!JTP0_~SB 4&rQ7|s”q)7S`teMB`]x_uGATQQ-{B:=%W/_”)$w6h

  • 63 random alpha-numeric characters (a-z, A-Z, 0-9):

    0btNigYpFmG5MGDBahRnw203t6jQlCYCNcuvCYgGAZVCFSLSwp7deBMj9Iy7Vfr

All I do is to go to the web page (where it generates a new key set each time – try it), copy the six lines (as in the above list) to a Notepad file, and save the file. Then, with all computers connected by Ethernet (step 1 above), copy the file to each computer. Depending upon the router, one key may work properly, while another won’t. Having 3 possibilities, in an identical set on each computer, means repeatedly copying and pasting, without having to worry about getting the computer back online, by other means, to simply copy another file.

After you copy the key set to each computer, start up the WiFi radio, and the WiFi clients. Start with WiFi in open (unencrypted) mode. Make sure that the router works, and you have a working signal, by testing without setting up security.

After you can connect the computer without security, and all network functions work, add WPA-PSK security.

  • Configure the router – copy the appropriate portion of 64 random hexadecimal characters into the router management program.
  • Copy the identical portion of 64 random hexadecimal characters into the client computer WiFi client manager setup wizard.
  • Test the WiFi client. If it works, fine. If not, repeat these steps, trying the 63 random printable ASCII characters, and finally the 63 random alpha-numeric characters.

This is 3 times as complex as it needs to be, and after you’ve done this a few times, you’ll be able to simplify these procedures. But for the first couple times you do this, the careful planning, and the lowered stress level, will make it easier to not make mistakes. By not making mistakes, you’re more likely for this to work. And making it work is the reason for my writing this in the first place.

Blogs And Your Browser

July 23, 2006

OK, you’ve got a kick ass web sie. It’s attractive, has good content, and it’s nicely organised. Then you get email from your friend

Dude, your web site is crap.

How did this happen? You think it looks great.

Frequently, this happens when you design and test your blog for one browser, and your friend uses another. Firefox and Internet Explorer are famous for this problem.

Back when the web was young, both Microsoft (developer of Internet Explorer) and Netscape (developer of Firefox) were members of the WWW Consortium (W3C). One of the tasks of W3C was to develop standards – to say

For this code, this is how it shall be displayed.

Both Microsoft and Netscape signed off on standards, to make their browsers compatible. Web code (HTML) is supposed to be browser independent. Anything that works in Firefox should work in Internet Explorer, and vice versa.

But Microsoft signed off on the standards, then turned around, wrote Internet Explorer, and ignored those standards. There are significant differences between the way Firefox (standard) and Internet Explorer (non-standard) render HTML.

And that’s why blogs (and web sites) written to look good in Internet Explorer may look like crap in Firefox. The bottom line? You have to test your blog, in both browsers, carefully, when you make changes. And use common sense. Don’t put things (pictures for instance) in places where they don’t fit. Check the width of any graphics, before setting them in place.

The Real Blogger Status / WordPress Edition #3

July 20, 2006

When the problem with Indian censorship of Blogspot blogs was first discussed, I wrote Help! I Can’t See My Blog!. When someone wrote in seeking advice, I’d point him / her towards that article.

Then someone reminded me.

Chuck, we can’t see your blog.

DOHH!

Then I remembered The Real Blogger Status / WordPress Edition #2. A quick import of The Real Blogger Status / Blogger Edition gave me the ability to provide Help! I Can’t See My Blog! / WordPress.

If I do this often enough, it takes maybe 5 minutes total.

And, since I now have a WordPress blog, I can now advise someone:

Are you in India? This is a known problem.
https://bloggerstatusforreal.wordpress.com/2006/07/15/help…

How Did I Do That?

July 20, 2006

How did I create a dynamic feed showing the last 5 posts in this blog?

Well, here’s the code.

<div style=’text-align:center; padding: 0px 3px 0.5em 3px;’>
<script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://app.feeddigest.com/digest3/PEXJUYD3JV.js”><noscript><a href=”http://app.feeddigest.com/digest3/PEXJUYD3JV.html”>Click for "The Real Blogger Status".</a> By <a href=”http://www.feeddigest.com/”>Feed Digest</a></noscript></script>
</div>

The code I got from FeedDigest. They take any set of Atom or RSS feeds (from any one, or from multiple web sites), and make you a custom feed in a javascript snippet like the above code. You put the above snnipet into your template, and you have a dynamic feed from this blog. You make your own (free) (of course), and you have the same, for your blog.

Don’t like the style of the information, as formatted above? Well, that’s part of the FeedDigest template that I used. They’ll give you a choice of half a dozen templates, or you can roll your own if you like coding HTML. All free.

Splogging Bots

July 17, 2006

I don’t know that ghosts exist, but I believe in them. I don’t know for sure that splogging bots exist, either. I believe in splogging bots more than I believe in ghosts. At least, I respect the threat that they provide. Ghosts can’t hurt you.

Here’s a scenario. You are tired of having your friends complain about not being able to see your blog, every time Blogspot hiccups. So you setup a folder on your ISPs server, you register a domain name (cool), and you publish your Blogger blog to your new domain. Fine.

The next day, one of your friends emails you and says

Why are you selling stocks (adult movies, drugs, what have you) now?

And you go to your old URL on Blogspot, and look. And lo, you see a big advertisement blog, where your poetry used to be. WTF?

So you think

I’ll fix them.

and you back into Blogger and change your blog to publish it back. Get rid of the spam shite. And when you try, you see

Sorry, this blog address is not available.

Browse thru the various threads in Google Blogger Help (in the 4 main subforums – ignore Share Your Blog!). You’ll see this story repeated almost daily. How did this happen?

From the volume that it’s happening, it pretty much has to be an automated process. Watching for newly available addresses (previously existed = worth money), re registering them, and putting spam blogs (splogs) in their place. And that’s a splogging bot.

  1. We know that botnets exist.
  2. We know that there’s money in botnets.
  3. We know that splog clusters exist.
  4. We know that there’s money in splogging.
  5. We know that blogs are being hijacked, in various ways.
  6. We know about “distributed attacks”, and about “throttled distributed attacks”.
  7. The rate that the hijackings are occurring suggests some sort of automated process.

So next you ask

If my blog gets deleted (by me or by a Blogger anti-splog bot), or if I move my blog to an external host, how quickly should I setup a stub blog, to replace what I just deleted or moved? How many hours, days, weeks am I safe?

Well, as in the example above, the hijackings that I’ve read about suggest a period of days (or overnight), until the problem is noticed. So did your friend load your blog (the old URL) immediately after it was hijacked? Or hours, or days, after?

I, personally, would assume the worst possible case, and suggest

Minutes.

Put it this way. If botnets are not being used, right now, in blog hijackings, then the hijackings are being done manually. If the bad guys aren’t using botnets right now, to hijack blogs, they will be sometime soon. Money follows money. Think. They are making good money right now. Using existing tools (botnets), they can make even better money.

I’ve been wrong before. Many times. I do not think I’m wrong right now.

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