Archive for October, 2006

Deprecated Code – Why You Should Avoid It

October 31, 2006

If you’re perusing one of my articles on blog coding, for instance Centering Complex and Multiple Objects, and you follow my advice to read the W3 Schools tutorials for further advice, you’ll find a lot to read. They give you good canonical definitions of each HTML tag, and interactive exercises so you can see what each one actually does.

If you’re reading about the <center> tag, you’ll note the advice

The center element was deprecated in HTML 4.01.
The center element is not supported in XHTML 1.0 Strict DTD.

If you’re not blocking popups from http://www.w3schools.com, you’ll note a popup window advising you that

A deprecated element or attribute is one that has been outdated.
Deprecated elements may become obsolete in the future, but browsers should continue to support deprecated elements for backward compatibility.

In other words, you can keep using <center> … </center> right now, but one day in the future, it may stop working. No guarantee when, either.

In HTML, an element is deprecated only when there is a replacement for it. In this case, this is a good replacement. The <center> … </center> tags are known to display differently in Firefox and Internet Explorer.

For <center> … </center>, you’re advised

Use CSS styles to center text!

I use

<span style=”text-align:center;”> … </span>

to center text, for instance. You can use the

<span> … </span>

pair within a paragraph, or wherever else convenient. And if you want to center graphic objects, or multiple text objects, relative to each other, you can use nested tables.

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Centering Complex and Multiple Objects

October 29, 2006

HTML, which is what blogs and other websites are coded with, is great for displaying text in a simple layout. It’s just like typing – what you type is displayed in paragraphs, cleanly and neatly laid out.

HTML is not so great for displaying objects, displayed with other objects. Displays written around HTML have to flow – horizontally and vertically. They have to accommodate displays of varying resolution, and windows of differing size. You can’t just place two objects next to each other, in your code – and expect one to appear below the other, in all cases.



Use a single cell table to display two objects, one above the other.

Make this line
Appear above this line

<table><tr><td>Make this line<br>Appear above this line</td></tr></table>



To center those two objects, horizontally, in the available space, use dual nested tables.

Make this line
Appear above this line

<table align=”center” border=1><tr><td><table align=”center” border=1><tr><td>Make this line<br>Appear above this line</td></tr></table></td></tr></table>



If you have more than one pair of objects to display, add a second <td> … </td> pair.

Make this line
Appear above this line
And make this line
Appear just above this line

<table align=”center” border=1><tr><td><table align=”center” border=1><tr><td>Make this line<br>Appear above this line</td></tr></table></td><tr><td>And make this line<br>Appear just above this line</td></tr></table></td></tr></table>



When you see the objects placed too closely next to each other, add padding. And center the contents.

Make this line
Appear above this line
And make this line
Appear just above this line

<span style=”text-align:center;”><table align=”center” border=1><tr><td><table align=”center” border=1 cellpadding=”20″><tr><td>Make this line<br>Appear above this line</td></tr></table></td><tr><td>And make this line<br>Appear just above this line</td></tr></table></td></tr></table></span>



Although the above examples all use text objects, any one of them could be a graphic image, instead.

Make this line
Appear above this line
And make the picture below

Appear just above this line

<span style=”text-align:center;”><table border=1 align=”center”><tr><td><table align=”center” border=1 cellpadding=”20″><tr><td>Make this line<br>Appear above this line</td><td>And make the picture below<br><img src=”http://www.techhelpers.net/e4u/animal/002.gif”><br>Appear just above this line</td></tr></table></td></tr></table></span>

Please use “<span style=”text-align:center;”> … </span>”; don’t use “<center> … </center>” here. The <center> element has been deprecated, and should not be used if your blog is going to be around for a while.



Now that you see how tables can help you, let’s make them invisible.

Make this line
Appear above this line
And make the picture below

Appear just above this line

<span style=”text-align:center;”><table border=0 align=”center”><tr><td><table align=”center” border=0 cellpadding=”20″><tr><td>Make this line<br>Appear above this line</td><td>And make the picture below<br><img src=”http://www.techhelpers.net/e4u/animal/002.gif”><br>Appear just above this line</td></tr></table></td></tr></table></span>

Please use “<span style=”text-align:center;”> … </span>”; don’t use “<center> … </center>” here. The <center> element has been deprecated, and should not be used if your blog is going to be around for a while.


If you’re in any way curious about how I setup this page, and showed the HTML so neatly, see my tutorial on anchors and HTML. And you can always examine the code for any specific page element, if you’re using Firefox. Or check out the W3 Schools tutorials, that tell you all about each HTML tag, as used above.

Image Uploading #6

October 27, 2006

The issue of uploading images has been with us, off and on, for months. I last wrote about this problem in June 2006, in Image Uploading – 5. Note this problem might be related to the current problems of Disappearing Images also.

Remember though, if you have this problem, you don’t report it to Blogger Support, and the problem continues, you have only yourself to blame when the problem continues.


(Edit 11/3): If the problem is with the Add Images button not appearing on the post editor toolbar, and the blog in question is published externally (not xxx.blogspot.com), then check your FTP publishing settings.

The image upload button will not appear for users publishing via FTP who do not have their FTP login information saved in their settings. As a workaround until we fix this, go to the Settings | Publishing tab and fill in the username and password for your FTP server. This does not affect Blog*Spot blogs.


(Edit 11/1):
Blogger Status claims that the problems have been fixed. I wonder what Pal smokes? Note additions to the list above.

Update 11:40 AM(PST): This issue has been resolved.


(Edit 10/30): A lot of advice about this problem mentions trying another browser. This problem, for some folks, may be caused by browser security settings which interfere with the scripts that enable image uploads. Using a different browser, maybe one with less security settings, will allow the scripts to run properly.

Another diagnostic procedure would be to try uploading into another post or another blog, maybe one created for the purpose. You can create any post, even one in another blog, upload pictures there, and publish the pictures in this post. And doing that would diagnose the problem as being related to the blog, as opposed to the computer.

In Disappearing Images – 3, I suggested that part of that problem might be caused by DNS cache, local content cache, or MTU settings issues, very real possibilities when working with complex networks that use Internet Protocol. I don’t think DNS cache, local content cache, or MTU settings issues can be ruled out for the uploading problems either – caching is an issue that concerns every phase of Internet use.

Disappearing Images #3

October 26, 2006

In my previous article in this series, Disappearing Images – 2, I discussed the possibility of DNS problems being part of the ongoing photo problem. Today, Blogger and Blogspot (Classical blogs) were down for over 1 1/2 hours for a scheduled equipment replacement.

to replace the piece of network equipment that was causing the outages in the past couple of weeks

When Blogspot came back up, we were able to view our blogs, but still got errors. We then looked at Blogger Status, and we see an update to todays outage report (posted somewhat after 15:30):

blogger and blogspot are back up (you may need to restart your browser to pick up the DNS change)

Now, here is why I originally suspected that there is a DNS problem, somewhere in the Google structure.

Explaining, or even giving an overview, of configuring DNS service is beyond the scope of this blog. I will, however, introduce you to a referential tool which is used by many techies. DNS Report, which is a subset of the wonderful DNSStuff Toolbox, can be run against any domain (or here, any Blogger subdomain, or blog URL) in question. A generated DNS Report will provide an intriguing evaluation of the DNS server structure, that supports access to that domain (your blog). Remember that DNS is an essential component, in providing access to your blog.

I ran 4 separate DNS Reports. You can run each one, yourself, by clicking on the links.

  1. As a baseline test, I ran a DNS Report for blogger.com.
  2. I ran a report for my blog, nitecruzr.blogspot.com.
  3. I ran a report for the problematic Blogger Photos domain, photos1.blogger.com.
  4. I ran a report for the also problematic Google Groups domain, groups.google.com, home of Google Blogger Help.

I think the results speak for themselves. Maybe these reports will clear up eventually. If Blogger made changes today in their DNS infrastructure, which affects this problem, the reports linked may change. DNS changes can take hours, or days, to fully replicate within the worldwide DNS structure.

Below you can see actual photos (OK, screen prints) of the reports, taken today, 10/26. If those photos show an appreciable difference from what you or I see at any later time, we will conclude that the changes made 10/26 were significant. If not, well, we will wait and see if the ongoing photo problems, and other problems, continue.

(Edit 11/9): All current reports are the same as below. No change indicated.

I will keep an open mind, and I suggest that you do the same.


Here, and the next 2, photos, we see the DNS Report for blogger.com.




Here we have the report for my blog, Nitecruzr.


Here we have the report for the Blogger Photo domain.


Here we have the report for the Google Groups domain. Of late, Google Groups has been showing similar symptoms, and we see that the underlying problem may not be confined to Blogger alone.

Blogs Being Hijacked?

October 23, 2006

I wrote Stolen Computers several months ago. I have been fearing that this moment would come, sooner or later. Last week, I wrote my first article in this series, A Blog Hijack?.

As as we continue, we see new reports of this scenario.

Giving Advice In Online Forums

October 23, 2006

Online forums, which are part of the Internet (in general), and the Web (in particular) (and no, the two are not the same) are used for many purposes. Some are advertisements, others social, and still others for requesting, and providing, advice. Since they are part of the Internet, many folks find it useful to provide some information (advice, discussion, or other content) in the forum itself, and link to additional information elsewhere on the Web.

The discussion of whether to provide advice in the forum itself, or in linked articles, is a constant issue in many forums. Some argue that it’s more friendly to the one seeking advice, if the help is provided in the forum thread. Others think that it’s more effective when provided in a linked article.

Let’s look at how our help should be provided.

  • Accurate. The post itself, and the linked posts, must be correct. The purpose here is to help people.
  • Attractive. Bloggers are like anybody else – they want information that’s readable.
  • Complete. Either the post itself, or the linked posts, must present a complete picture of the problem and solution.
  • Relevant. The content of the advice should be specific to the problem.
  • Timely. The advice should be produced promptly when needed, and should be updated when appropriate.

Accurate
We are here to help people. If someone needs advice, what we tell them must be correct. What we tell them to read must be likewise so.

If we are giving advice in an open forum, that forum likely operates on peer-peer advice. If your peer (anybody with a history in the forum) provides advice that contradicts yours, spend some time validating her / his claim. If you find him / her to be correct, annotate or revise your posts to reflect the advice given.

If you provide wrong advice, and nobody corrects you, nobody benefits. If you are corrected, and you ignore a correction, you eventually lose credibility.

Keep your forum advice, and your blog content, accurate and up to date.

Attractive
Bloggers are like anybody using the web – they will respond better to help provided in an attractive, easy to read, and well organised format. Both content of the advice – grammar, spelling, style – and layout of the advice – use of formatting and layout elements – are essential. The use of white space improves readability.

Classically, forums were Usenet based. Usenet is text only, and offers no formatting options. Of the forums that are web based, few offer an HTML feature set. The Google Groups forums are extensions of Usenet, and offer few features not found in Usenet.

  • Identity uniqueness. When you register for a given forum (“join” the forum), you are asked what nickname you wish to use. If that nickname is in use, in that forum, you will be instructed to try another nickname. Nicknames must be unique. This prevents spoofing.
  • Identify cross reference. For any poster, you can view their profile. Under Profile, you will see a list of all posts made by that person. This provides validation by posting history.
  • Hyperlink conversion. If you type in a string of characters that corresponds to a web address, ie

    http://bloggerstatusforreal.blogspot.com/
    2006/10/giving-advice-in-online-forums.html

    that string will be converted to a hyperlink, ie

    http://bloggerstatusforreal.blogspot.com/
    2006/10/giving-advice-in-online-forums.html

    .

Formatting in Google Groups, as in Usenet, is otherwise text only.

Which is easier to read?

Make your advice relevant.
>>http://bloggerstatusforreal.blogspot.com/
2006/10/giving-advice-in-online-forums.html#Relevant

OR

Make your advice relevant.

??

And not all web forums provide even the above amenities.

If you want to provide advice with any consistent style, off forum web sites are the best solution.

Complete
The information given should be complete in itself, or in linked articles. Giving advice like

Google is your friend

is accurate, but not helpful.

Relevant
Don’t waste the time of the folks looking for advice, or of the other helpers providing advice, with irrelevant or useless chatter. Advice should be applicable to the problem being discussed.

If we recognise that there are many different Bloggers (actually each is unique, in some way), we see that we can never hope to please everybody. Some may want more detail when we help them, while others may want less

Just the facts please.

and can anybody attribute that saying?

By writing advice, as with other posts, using hypertext, we can provide brief amounts of information in some posts, and more detail in others. We can link directly to a post, or even to a section within a post, to provide relevant details to the issue being discussed.

Relevance is important when we start a new thread too. There are 6 separate and distinct forums in Google Blogger Help. Starting any new thread in the proper forum is good etiquette, and helps in maintaining a level of order in the forums.

Timely
The advice should be provided promptly, so the person seeking advice will feel motivated to respond promptly. This will vary from forum to forum, and will depend upon overall traffic in that forum.

In a forum where most advice is requested, and received, within hours, you’ll not help well by waiting until the next day to reply. If nobody replies to a forum thread started that day, and other threads are constantly being made and responded to, your response to that thread may not even be seen.

Blogs can be produced now (when the need arises, making them timely), and updated later (as information is found, making them accurate and complete). Forum posts can only be produced once – either now (which prevents them from being accurate and complete), or later (which prevents them from being timely). Forum threads which are both accurate, complete, and timely become cluttered with dozens of separate conversations, making them ugly, and impossible to read.

If you provide advice thru a blog post (or series of posts), and a problem is discussed in multiple threads, you can allow your blog to evolve over time. As each new thread is started (by someone seeking advice), and provides new perspective on a problem, you can update your posts. As you update your posts, prior threads, containing the link to your posts also, will link to updated information. Your advice and posts become both accurate, complete, relevant, and timely.

Blogger Security Issues Continue

October 20, 2006

Last Friday (Friday the 13th yet), PCWorld Google’s Blogger Suffers Outage reported

After getting hacked this past weekend, Google’s Blogger publishing service suffered an outage yesterday morning that kept both Blogger.com and the Blogspot hosting service offline for two hours.

Then there was a long semi-outage 9/27 – 9/28, where any publishing of posts required repeated retries, and clearing of cache and cookies.

And, most recently, yet another hijacked blog.

What is going on here? Maybe a distributed attack, as I predicted some time ago?

Disappearing Images #2

October 18, 2006

In my previous post, in this series, Disappearing Images, I suggested that this is caused by an MTU setting problem.

In thinking further, I think that the nature of the photos problem fits both a DNS problem, and an MTU setting problem.It’s apparently random, by multiple factors

  • Blog.
  • Photo within blog.
  • Reader of the blog.
  • Time.

From reading questions by Blogger, I am guessing that they are focusing on the blogs, and the photos. I think that we need to diagnose the DNS and MTU factors, since we are the ones affected.

Bothe DNS and MTU involve 3 groups of factors.

  • The reader (you, or your friends), and client computer.
  • The network, including routers and servers between the readers, and the Blogger servers.
  • The Blogger servers themselves.

The problem is seemingly random by time and by person – some people will see the problem, while others won’t, even when viewing the same blog. No two computers in the world, including what network activity they are involved in, how they are connected to the network, and what blogs they are accessing, will ever be the same. So two people, even when accessing the same blog simultaneously, will get different results.

The problem is seemingly random by photo within blog – any one person will see some photos, but not others. This is caused by cache issues. Any time that you view a blog, and you have ever viewed any post previously, some of the photos will be in cache. Some photos may be in cache, but be expired. Different photos may have been added to the blog at different times, will have different cache expiry status, and may or may not be displayed if there is a problem at that time.

  • Any photos that are not in cache won’t be retrieved and won’t be displayed.
  • Any photos that are in cache, but are expired, won’t be retrieved and won’t be displayed.
  • Any photos that are in cache and are not expired, will be displayed.
  • If there is no problem at that time, all photos, regardless of cache status, will be displayed.

DNS also is cache sensitive. At any time, any DNS server in the world may need to provide the IP address of photos1.blogger.com, so a customer can retrieve a photo. The Blogger DNS server will be called upon, to provide that IP address. If you, or any other user of the same DNS server, needs that address, its availability will be subject to similar possibilities.

  • If the address is not in cache, any photos that are needed won’t be retrieved and won’t be displayed.
  • If the address is in cache but expired, any photos that are needed won’t be retrieved and won’t be displayed.
  • If the address is in cache and not expired, any photos that are needed will be retrieved and displayed.
  • If there is no problem at that time, all photos, regardless of DNS status, will be retrieved and displayed.

There are 3 factors that affect the status of any item in a cache – be it a DNS cache, or Temporary Internet files.

  • Activity. With a more active computer, client or server, items expire sooner.
  • Age. The oldest items expire sooner from cache .
  • Cache size. With a smaller cache, items expire sooner.

Here, too, every computer in the world will be different.

The bottom line here? My gut feel is that there’s one or more servers, somewhere in the Blogger or Google complex, that are intermittently bad. Given all of the above possibilities, the intermittent period doesn’t have to be too small, or too irregular. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see any one server being down for hours, if not days, and causing the above problems.

With all of that said, I would like to diagnose whether DNS or MTU are involved on the client end. Any diagnosis will require the involvement of the folks seeing the symptoms, when the symptoms are seen. I will discuss what needs to be done next, in my next article in this series, Disappearing Images – 3.

(Edit 10/26 15:30): Blogger equipment replacement today apparently involved changes to the DNS infrastructure.

A Blog Hijack?

October 17, 2006

I wrote Stolen Computers several months ago. I have been expecting that this moment would come, sooner or later. I’m still not convinced that it’s as obvious as it appears, nor that I have any part of it described in my article. But that’s why I’m here – I’m learning as I go.

I’m going to quote this story from the relevant posts in Blogger Help Group: Something Is Broken Blogs have been hijacked. . ….

  • The original post by Margie, 10/17.

    I received an email from blogger saying that my account had been cancelled because I violated the TOS. However, there was no explanation at all. I had blogs that were not linked to websites at all. Instead of pointing out the offending blog, they took out all of my blogs. On Thursday Oct 12th, I went into my sites and double checked them all to make sure everything was working. I added an affiliate or two, a few links and a sign up form (only on my job search blog) for people to sign up for a free job search ezine. I added a picture of the ebook I am promoting, but only to that site. The only other thing that I did new was join a subscription site called article builder. Article builder adds their own articles to your site automatically. I thought I’d try it because the articles are interesting and appropriate to job search. On Friday, Oct 13th, am EST, my blogs were all gone. . . mind you, this was after being told several days before that they were sorry that they had tagged my blogs as spam.

    Now, I read the TOS at least 5 times and could not find any reason whatsoever that I violated anything. I asked other people. No one can understand. My other hosting accounts don’t understand. I have seen blogs out there there that light up like Christmas trees with advertisements everywhere. I have seen blatent sex sites being let through on blogs. My blog contains solid job search advice and articles providing job search advice. Yes, my blogs link to any appropriate websites that I have and I only have 4 or 5 websites right now. Not all of them have blogs either.

    When I pulled up the cache for jobsearchtop10.blogspot.com, I saw my first page. When I typed in the url, I was taken, after a brief delay, to anther site which I outlined in my earlier post. I saw that google had last visited the site on Oct 7th and there was a strange statement saying that my blog had been flagged. I had no idea what that meant. Now I know.

  • A second post by Margie, with more details, 10/20.

    The article builder is a program you sign up for. You have a password to get into the site. Once you are into the site, you choose private label articles that are on topic for your site, click on your choice to upload the articles to your websites, wordpress, blogger for example. When you click on blogger you have to enter your blogger password. Then you are taken to the articles that you want to upload, you set the number of days you want it uploaded for whether it be daily, weekly, monthly, etc. save that and then the article builder does the rest. They explained upfront that blogger may consider the articles to be spam at first and that is why you have to type in a security code. They tell you to go into your blogger account for a day or two, submit the blog to the blogger team (click on the question mark), the blogger team will review it and approve it when they see it is a quality article related to your site.

  • An interesting analysis by Kayakto, 10/30.

    i make an “article site” – really just a collection of all availaible public domain articles. I tell people that they can post them on their blogs automatically. Of course I know that blogger knows my IP and that blogger knows that Im just a spammer. So what happens – blogger marks all blogs that use my service as spam. I then tell my “users” to use this tool on blogger.com that you type captcha and blogger.com verifyes blog as not spam. My “user” does it on his account, with his email – blogger employee visits the blog, sees it’s fine, marks the blog as “not spam”. Thank you my “user” for giving me your blog, now marked as not spam for free. Say goodbye to your account. From what I know this guy is making at least 20 bucks from every 100 visitors you had.

Improvements In Communication #2

October 15, 2006

A few weeks ago, I noted the existense of a new channel of communication, Known Issues for Blogger in Beta. The apparent intended focus of this web page is application issues related to Blogger Beta. This was a good start, and nicely complemented the Blogger Status, web page, which apparently is intended for system related problems.

The focus for Beta Known Issues (aka BKI) is limited to Blogger Beta. Noting that the migration from Classical Blogger to Beta Blogger is not all that complete, I recommended a similar web page for Classical Blogger. This recommendation was publicly denied.

Yesterday, I noted significant changes in the Blogger Help form and help request procedures. And a significant part of the help request procedures includes two new references – Beta Known Issues (an apparent alternate reference to the database which feeds the BKI blog), and Classical Known Issues (which complements the BKI, and provides a similar reference for Classical Blogger users).

Now, both the BKI and CKI web pages are, what I would call, proof of concept pages. They show that something can be done. Neither offer much detail (depth) or content (width). Over the next few days, and as I complete my assessment of the progress to date in the Beta Migration, I hope to compile my current lists of issues, and encourage other Bloggers to do likewise, so we can ask Blogger in truth

Hey Blogger – Why isn’t this issue acknowleged in BKI / CKI?

Maybe we can encourage Blogger Support to actually make something out of BB-BKI and BB-CKI. I suspect that it will take some effort, but it’s a start. And it’s better than the silence.