Category Archives: Idiot’s Journey

Watch me bumble and stumble through basic stuff

In Which I Bow To The Inevitable

The front of the Amazon Kindle DX

Image via Wikipedia

No, I haven’t bought an iPhone, don’t be silly. Anyway, I’m happy with my Symbian based Nokia 5800XM and when I tire of it I’ll get an Android based phone.

No, the inevitable is a little different. For background, I love to read and always have done. As a child, if I didn’t have a book, I would read the back of the cornflake packet. And that is not an exaggeration. As a result, despite losing/giving away/selling/etc many many books over the years, I have more than 700 of them at home. And there is no sign that this number will reduce. Serendipitously, I read something that meant that this could change…

Amazon have finally brought the Kindle to the UK. In fact, if you go to the Amazon UK homepage, there’s an announcement stretching down the centre of the page. We can finally read books on a book sized device that isn’t a book! In fact, there are two models on offer – the all-singing, all-dancing 3G/Wifi version and the Wifi only version. I have gone for Wifi only as I can only imagine needing to download books via a wifi connection and not when I am out of range. Also, I am cynical about the “Free 3G Wireless” offer – in this country it usually means for a time or as long as you don’t use it more than we like.

So, with a capacity of 3,500 books, from late next month, I can stop clogging up our house with dead-tree media and can also carry loads of books with me. The only problem will be “which one do I read first?”

everything in this post has been written by me as a personal post. I am not being paid by Amazon or any of their businesses to write this. though if Amazon do want to give me money and gadgets so that I’ll write about them, I will not complain or stop them.
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Zemanta Revisited

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Image via CrunchBase

Way back in 2008, I wrote a brief post about Zemanta.  I think it’s about time I updated it.

I use Zemanta every time I write a post. The artwork normally to the top left of any post is usually picked from a selection suggested by Zemanta. The tags I pick are, again, from a selection suggested by Zemanta. And that little “reblog” icon at the bottom right of every post? Yep, that’s from Zemanta too.  Zemanta is a very useful tool in a blooger’s tool kit and I hope that this will persuade you to try it out on your own site.

Let’s take a look at what it does. From the Zemanta Learn page:

Zemanta is a tool that looks over your shoulder while you blog and gives you tips and advice, suggests related content and pictures and makes sure your posts get promoted as they deserve to be. We at Zemanta are thinking hard to help make blogging easier for you. We’re engineering better creative tools to help you get the most out of your blogging time.

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Older WordPress Versions Are Insecure

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Image via CrunchBase

I have said this many times before: UPGRADE WORDPRESS WHEN PROMPTED.  This one is in the style of “beating you about the head and body and then caning you across the eyeballs“.  Why?  Because a hack has been discovered that makes your older, more stable, more comfortable WordPress.org install very insecure and really you may as well make the password Pa55w0rd – because your older version can and will be pwned.

Now that I have your attention….  Go to Lorelle‘s site, Robert Scoble‘s site and the WordPress Dev Blog to see details of this new exploit.  If you have version 2.8.4 (like what I do), you are more secure.  As well as upgrading, remove the default admin account and create a new one (reverse order, is good on that one), check for phantom admin accounts and make sure you are using a strong password.  There are other things to do, but that will keep you going for now.

I regularly get comments such as “if I upgrade it breaks all my plugins”, “my theme doesn’t work if I upgrade now” and so on.  You now get to make a value judgment: if you don’t upgrade you could end up no longer owning your blog vs giving up or changing a few plugins or a theme.  Which of these is the worst case scenario for you?

Upgrade now. You know it makes sense.

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Fixing Your RSS Feed Problems in WordPress

Just a quick post here.  I had been having real issues with the RSS feeds over the last few weeks.  In short, they weren’t working.  See the issues I was having over here.  As a good forum goer, I hit Google and also searched the forums for a solution.  To no avail.

So if you see this:

PROBLEM: FeedMedic Alert for http://feeds2.feedburner.com/<blog name>/EaHL
07/03/09 13:59

FeedBurner had trouble retrieving your Source Feed: http://www.<blog name>.org/feed/

The error message is:

Error on line 2: The processing instruction target matching "[xX][mM][lL]" is not allowed.

The fix that worked for me is here.  This fixed the issue immediately and I feel relieved.  Thank you to w3it.org your advice was great.

I am posting this in case anyone else has the problem and also in case a future upgrade of WordPress brings back the problem.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Because I hold you all in such high regard (*pause, gesture, sincere forehead*) I’m going to come clean about a few things.  Things you need to know about. (*pause, gesture, furrowed brow*).  Some of these things you will have noticed immediately, others you may not have (*look around, meeting everyone’s eye, sincere half-smile*).

My all-knowing dashboard kindly informed me that WordPress 2.7.1 was out and that I had to upgrade.  No problemo, thought I, piece of cake.  The 5 minute install and upgrade instructions are very clear and a complete idiot can follow them and do it all.  Right?  Guys?  Yeah, I got distracted.  Only for a second but it was enough.  I was ssh-ing and moving stuff with panache and then I realised, I had cunningly managed to overwrite the wp-content folder with a fresh one.  This is the folder that contains the theme (and any changes) and all the plugins.  So yeah, I am a true genius.

So there you are, a cautionary tale and all that.  Fortunately, it gave me the opportunity to make a few changes here.  Much of this is in the background, I was able to take out a bunch of plugins that no longer work and update a few others.  I also enabled IntenseDebate and it imported everything very quickly indeed this time – it will only really matter to you if you comment on other blogs that also use it.  SpamKarma2 has been sadly discontinued, so I have gone with the default Akismet.  There are a few other bits of functionality that I’m missing, but I’ll get that sorted.

Finally, and most obviously, you’ll see that I have a smallish (200×200) AdSense ad.  This is not my new money making scheme.  After seeing one of Dominic’s latest posts, I became curious as to what I would see on my own site.  You will, hilariously, see lots of ads for psychics and other snake-oil salesmen.  Here’s the deal, click the ads or don’t – this really is up to you.  I have a day job and everything and it pays well enough that I only need one paying job.  On the other hand, if you do click the ads and go through to these places, you will be making a psychic donate to an openly skeptical site.  As I said, the choice is entirely yours, there are no tip jar or donate buttons here and this was simply to see what comes up.

There may well be other changes and tweaks coming up, but these are the most obvious.

How To Test Out Linux

I won’t bore you with my personal journey with Linux (it’s pretty much try, give up, try again, give up, try again, distro hop, pick a distro), but based on this comment, I thought it would be worthwhile discussing how best to try Linux out and the reasons you could find it useful to do so and why you may not find it so useful…  Call it a belated Christ-/Mithras-/Horus-mas present to the world.

First, the reasons people test out Linux.  These are many and varied, but the main ones seem to be: they heard it was cool, it was sold as a major panacea for all computing ills, they are geeks and think it’s de rigeur to do so, it looked good on a friend’s PC, it solves a problem they have, they are sick of lock in and viruses.  There are other reasons, but I think these are representative.  Here’s the thing: none of these reasons are bad reasons.  I have tried various things out over the years for similar reasons – some I have stuck with and some I haven’t.  The more rabid Linux evangelists will tell you that you have to try it and that there’s something wrong with you if you don’t.  I’m not going to do that.  It would be great if the balance were tipped from proprietary OSes to the FOSS way, but I am realistic enough to know that this isn’t going to happen soon.  We are making major inroads, particularly on the server front, but by being realistic I have more chance of being persuasive.

If you are planning (however vaguely) to try out Linux I cannot stress this enough: do your research.  Look at the more popular distributions and check that your hardware is supported and won’t have any major issues.  Google is an excellent resource for this, Linux is an operating system that wouldn’t have come in to being without the internet and problems and fixes are discussed widely all over the place.  Head over to Distrowatch and see what people are looking into, hit the various websites that distributions have and see what they look like and make sure that you feel comfortable with the look and feel of the distribution.

An amazingly cool resource that will be of great help is the Live CD.  This gives you an entire operating system on either a CD or DVD.  Many distros offer this and you can use them to see whether Linux is for you and to test out what a distro will look like and get a great feel for the usage.  You can use them for diagnosing and fixing problems or as a handy and portable method for always having Linux on whichever PC you use.  They do not make changes to your hard drive and so you don’t have to install anything.  For the price of the download and a blank CD or DVD you can save yourself a lot of hassle.

Investigate dual booting.  You don’t have to wipe your current OS to test out another system, you can simply give it space on your hard drive and switch between.  This will give you the best idea of how it will work with your system and whether it will be for you on a daily basis.  Dual booting is pretty simple and straightforward.  It will also enable you to research problems on your known working OS if you do hit snags.

Don’t give up on your first failure.  I have lost count of the number of times that I have seen posts about how crap Linux is only to find that the poster has used it for a few hours and given up at the first hurdle.  Remember that Windows has a major lock in with a number of hardware vendors (and Mac restricts the hardware it will run on) and also software vendors.  This means that hardware and software will always work on those systems because the vendors will make it work.  Most of the drivers and software on Linux only run because the coders are dedicated and intelligent enough to make it work.  (I won’t go into the “Linux is a kernel not an OS” here because it’s irrelevant to the discussion)  For a good chunk of it’s life, Linux coders worked for the joy of coding and the fact that it runs so well on such varied hardware is testament to their skill and dedication.

Finally, research, research, research.  I’m going to mention this again because it is all important.  Think about what you want to run it on – if you have any obscure hardware or important hardware (webcams, scanners, ISP provided modems) look around the web to see if they are supported.  If you have a particular piece of software that you absolutely must have running look to see if there’s a Linux version or if there is a different piece of software that will run just as well.  Read Linux Is Not Windows – it may be a few years old, but it is still relevant.

None of this is rocket science.  It’s been a few years since Linux emerged from the “geeks only” state to an “anyone can get it running state.”  You can install Linux in around 20 minutes (from start to finish) and you will have a full desktop and a varied amount of software.  There are some 40,000+ software packages available for it from a variety of resources, so it’s likely that you will find the software you need.  You don’t have to reboot after each software install or update.  There are no real viruses available for it and malware just isn’t there.  Out of the box, it is more secure than Windows and will cost you a lot less in monetary terms.  You can distribute it freely and legally and this is explicit in the licence.  You don’t have to agree to EULAs or other restrictive licences.

So there you are, that’s how to do it.  If you want to know how not to do it, just don’t follow my advice.  The vast majority of people who fail to install and run Linux (or one of the BSDs or any other alternative OS) do so because they went in with the wrong attitude.  Before you can ride a bike or drive a car or do most tasks, there are steps to take before you do it – and computers are no different.  There is no magic bullet which will make you an automatic expert, despite the advertising, the only real way to do it is to research and persevere.  If you do decide to stick with it there are any number of resources that will assist you, from hard copy books to online forums to blogs like this.  If you stick with it you will be part of a community and a movement and will meet many interesting and fun people.  My first trip to the US was off the back of Linux – so how’s that, run an OS and travel the world?