SEB Podcast Episode 9 Audio Edition is now online.

A pic of a microphone.

Blah blah blah…

For those of you who prefer to listen to a podcast (as opposed to watching it) your wait is finally over! I have converted the Back from the Dead podcast from Google Hangouts into an MP3 file. Complete with all the mistakes and glitches of the original! Don’t think of it as me being lazy. Think of it as it being a truly authentic experience!

You can download the file by clicking here or you can listen to it from this entry using the media player below.

Play

The SEB Podcast Revival is still happening.

Hey, remember how way back in February I wrote a post about reviving the SEB Podcast and everyone was all like “that’s a great idea” and Dave was all “we should totally do that” and then the weeks passed and I posted updates that said it was still “totally going to happen”? Remember that?

It's so magical!Well it’s still totally happening. After months of Dave remodeling his kitchen and me packing up everything I own and moving to a smaller apartment and him being sick and me being lazy, we’ve both marked this Sunday as the day we’re totally going to do the podcast.

So, seeing as it’s been some time since I last asked you folks what you’d like to hear us chat about I thought I should put out the call once again. If you suggested something previously and still want to hear about that topic that’s fine, but if you’ve come up with an even better topic then now is your chance to let us know. Just leave a comment on this post or drop me an email and we’ll see if we can’t come up with something to say about it. Cause it’s totally gonna happen this weekend.

Probably.

The Great Move of 2015 is complete.

I keep meaning to blog about something, but this time I have a good excuse. We spent the last week packing up everything we own into a million different boxes where we won’t ever be able to find that one thing we need right this moment ever again. We did this because we were moving to a new apartment.

We didn’t want to move as we’ve been pretty happy in Ann Arbor, but the owners of the apartment complex we lived in (Mill Creek Townhouses) decided to hire Village Green to run their apartment complex a couple of years back and Village Green likes to think they can turn any apartment into a “luxury” apartment by putting in new cabinets, fancy lighting fixtures, and black appliances in the kitchens and raising the rent to an unholy level. When we first moved in we rented a 3 bedroom townhome with a basement for $1050 a month which was a stretch at the time, but Anne was working and we could afford it. When Courtney decided to move out to live with her mom so should could attend college in Grand Rapids a year later we moved down to a 2 bedroom with a basement that cost us a much more reasonable $735 a month. That was 5 years ago. In those years Village Green jumped our rent considerably each year such that my last year of rent was $1010 a month — almost as much as we paid for the 3 bedroom 6 years ago.

This has nothing to do with this entry, but I thought it was amusing.

This has nothing to do with this entry, but I thought it was amusing.

We ended up finding another 2 bedroom townhouse with a basement for $810 a month in Canton which, if you’ve been reading this blog since its inception, you may recognize as the town I lived in back when SEB first came into being. We lived in Canton from 1998 to 2005 and only left because that was the year of my first real bout of unemployment. It’s been 10 years and moving back feels a lot like going home to a place that (so far at least) seems to have only gotten better since we left. We’re losing about 100 square feet of living space in the move as the new apartment is slightly smaller than the old one. This is particularly noticeable in the kitchen where the fewer number of cabinets is significant, forcing us to make some decisions on what goes in the cabinets and what gets moved to storage in the basement. We’ll find a way to make it work, though, and I think we’ll be pretty happy. More importantly we’ll have a little more breathing room in the budget than we’ve had in a couple of years. If you have to leave someplace you were happy with it’s always nice to go to someplace else you were also very happy with.

Technically I was on vacation last week, but it sure doesn’t feel like it as we spent it trying to figure out what to put in which boxes and what to throw away and where the stuff we were keeping would go in the new place and hoping the movers we hired didn’t kill us for being the disorganized, messy, hoarding people that we are. Fortunately the movers were awesome as fuck and kicked much ass and told us that we had done an excellent job compared to a lot of their customers. I suspect they were just being nice, but they got all our crap loaded into their truck and unloaded in the new place in around 7 hours or so in heat that felt more like late August than late May. They even disassembled and reassembled our bed for us which was probably the thing I was most unqualified to do. If you live in Michigan and want to hire some professional movers we’d happily recommend Morse Moving and Storage as they did a kick ass job for us.

So that’s what we’ve been up to. We’re in the process of unpacking now which is going to be a long process, but we’ll get through it. We did decide to make the second bedroom into a Den for our computers instead of putting them in the basement like we did in AA. So now when I use my webcam there won’t be a tower of boxes behind me. Maybe I’ll try some actual vlogging now.

A quick roundup of stuff.

wellshitSo I see the blog is getting dusty again. Here’s what I’ve been up to instead of writing stuff.

Mostly it’s been looking for a new place to live. Our lease on our apartment here in Ann Arbor is up at the end of May and, much like the last several years, the folks at Village Green are asking for a huge jump in rent for us to stay another year (from $1,010 to $1,145). We’re living hand to mouth as it is already and so we’re on the hunt for someplace new which, unfortunately, means leaving Ann Arbor. We thought we’d found a place in Whitmore Lake, but the guy they thought was leaving in May has opted to stay another year and so they don’t have any units that’ll be available before we have to move.

Now we’re looking at possible renting a manufactured house in Novi which would put me within 15 minutes of work, but they’re already finding it hard to just show us the unit we’d be renting and that makes me wonder if moving there would be a mistake. We saw a unit that someone else is renting last Thursday and they promised we could see the one we were being offered either Monday or Tuesday, but here is is Wednesday and I actually had to take the day off tomorrow to maybe see it because reasons. They have an move-in incentive of getting the first month for free, but that promotion ends tomorrow if we don’t sign up and I’m not signing up until I see exactly what it is I’m signing up for. So depending on how things go tomorrow my hunt may or may not be over.

The SEB Podcast revival is still going to happen, but I’m not sure exactly when. Dave has been busy with remodeling his kitchen out in Denver and the month of May will have Anne and I packing for the move to wherever at the end of the month. So maybe we’ll squeeze it in and maybe it’ll be June. Still, Dave and I totally plan on doing it and we may re-ask about topics depending on how long it takes us to get our shit together.

Beyond that, the weather has improved a bit as of late, but I’m still not back to walking as often as I should. I’ve made it out a couple of times with my buddy Greg, but it’s still not a routine. My weight is hovering right in the mid-280’s so at least I haven’t put back on all that I’ve lost. I thought my Fitbit had crapped out on me as it stopped syncing for several days and I got on Twitter to moan about it and the FitBit folks responded with the secret of how to do a reset on the device. It’s back to working again and reminding me that I am one lazy motherfucker.

If you stopped by SEB today you may have found it unresponsive. Seems the Varnish cache that Dreamhost puts on the account needed to have its memory settings tweaked and was killing the site for several hours. Alas, the couple of posts I had intended to write (other than this one) have since withered and died. I’ll try to post something in the next day or so.

This is my ever eternal struggle illustrated…

hot_body

Tacos are just too damned tasty and when I eat them, I eat far too many of them. Still, I strive to do better.

Managed to have a small streak of blogging going and then ran out of steam so here’s what I’ve been up to instead of blogging: Apartment hunting. Which is just a shitload of not fun.

Our lease is up at the end of May and we’re anticipating that they’ll raise our rent by another $100 which we just can’t afford. Our rent has gone up by almost $300 in three years and I’m almost paying as much for our two-bedroom town home as I did for the three bedroom we initially moved into. So we’re looking around to see what’s available out there. Right now it’s looking like we will have to leave Ann Arbor as all of the more affordable apartments are either in bad neighborhoods or at places that are in need of some serious renovations.

We’ve found a promising complex in Whitmore Lake that’ll give us two bedrooms and two bathrooms and a washer/dryer in the unit (stacked, but better than nothing). Pros are it’s a newer complex (about 10 years old), cuts my commute time in half, will allow us to keep our 2 cats, and is about $200 cheaper from where we are now (and probably even more assuming our rent is going up). Cons are it’s in Whitmore Lake which is a much more Conservative community than Ann Arbor is. And we have to pack up all our crap and haul it to the new location which doesn’t have a basement like our town home does.

Looking back, we probably should have followed through on our plans to buy a house last spring seeing as the alternative plan of using the money to try and get healthy has had very (very, very) modest success so far. That said, any of the places we were looking at would’ve been as difficult to afford on just my income as the place we’re renting now so I would’ve just been trading one financial difficulty for another.

Still, we trek on through this thing called life doing the best we know how.

I’m going to revive the SEB Podcast.

fightwithmyselfI checked the SEB Podcast archive this morning and realized that it’s been almost three years since the last one (May 8, 2012) which is really weird because it totally doesn’t feel like it’s been three years. So I rang up Dave Hill of ***Dave Does the Blog fame, who has traditionally been my co-host on the podcast, and asked him if he was interested in getting back into it. He agreed it was about damned time we did another one and so we’re figuring out what our weekends look like to try and get one in the can soon.

Three years is a long time and these days all the cool kids are doing their podcasts via Google Hangouts so you can see the people who are talking and Dave suggested we try that route for our next outing. I thought that was a good idea even though my current desktop placement is in my basement and my current backdrop consists of a shitload of boxes full of crap from the last time we moved that we never got around to unpacking (which is probably for the best considering I’ll probably be moving this May). So my first task will be rigging up something to hide the ungodly mess that would otherwise be visible behind me.

Traditionally we’ve asked the readers of our respective blogs to submit any topics they’d like us to chat about. I’ll be honest, with as infrequent as my blogging has been lately I don’t know if there’s enough interested parties to make suggestions, but if you’re still checking in here and have something you’d like to hear us express our semi-informed opinions on you can either leave a comment on this entry or send me an email and let us know.

Yes, this is an attempt to get back into blogging/podcasting more often. Something I’ve been meaning to do for awhile. This year may also be the year that I finally get around to trying my hand at vlogging, something else I’ve been kicking around for years. Though right now I’ll be happy if I just manage to get back into blogging a couple times a week at a minimum.

I missed the old layout.

SEB is looking a little more like SEB today. Ever since I made the move to WordPress I’ve been at a loss to come up with a site design that I’m happy with. The WP templating system is a nightmare compared to blogging platforms I’ve used in the past and I’ve never really mastered it. Not that I’ve ever been particularly great at HTML coding to begin with, but I am fond of the few layouts I managed to cobble together in the past.

This is just a slightly modified Twenty Eleven theme from the base WP install, but it makes it feel a little more like it did back when I was still coding the layout by hand. I was going to make another attempt at it, but then I remembered that the one image editing package I know how to use — PhotoImpact — and the one HTML editor I know how to use — Homesite — have both been bought out by bigger companies and discontinued. PI by Corel and Homesite by Macromedia which was in turn bought out by Adobe. If this sounds familiar it’s because I bitched about this previously around about this time last year. Showing that I’m becoming predictable and consistent in my habits as I get older.

Of course I can’t just write a short blurb about this cyclical need to redesign SEB that comes around each fall without hitting up the Internet Archive to see what past layouts I’ve used. To get to the earliest stuff I had to use my Jenkins Online domain as we didn’t get the Stupid Evil Bastard domain name until October of 2002. Considering how long I had SEB with a black background it was surprising to realize one of the first layouts I ever did was for a white page:

The very first layout I could find in the Internet Archive. Click to embiggen.

The very first layout I could find in the Internet Archive. Click to embiggen.

Here we can see that I got started with the narcissistic practice of putting my face on the page very early on in SEB’s history. My choice of font size and link color are horrendous as it makes reading the page annoying as fuck. I kept it like this for several months until someone I knew at my job at Ford told me he designed webpages as a side job and offered to do one for me if I put a link back to his own site on the page. A chance to have a pro design a layout? How could I refuse!

The only SEB layout that I didn't design myself until we made the switch to WordPress. It was... interesting. Click to embiggen.

One of the few SEB layouts that I didn’t design myself until we made the switch to WordPress. It was… interesting. Click to embiggen.

The Internet Archive misaligns a couple of the images in their reproduction, but that’s more or less how it looked at the time. I wasn’t overly thrilled with it myself, but I felt an obligation to use it for at least a little while. From about September of 2002 until January 2003 after we moved to our current domain name and I came up with this fabulously retro template:

I wasn't even alive in the 1950's so I have no idea why I thought this was cool. Click to embiggen.

I wasn’t even alive in the 1950’s so I have no idea why I thought this was cool. Click to embiggen.

I loved this template for a couple of reasons. The first being that it contains a couple of simple graphical tricks that I had recently mastered such as the gradient fill in the title bar that gave a pseudo-3D look. The hint of a drop shadow that runs down the left side of the text boxes was something I was very proud of at the time. Also, the move towards blue in my templates. OK, this was more of a turquoise color, but it’s blue-ish. Blue has always been my favorite color (probably because my eyes are blue) and it would end up being a big part of future layouts. That lasted up until sometime between August and October of 2003 when I unleashed the layout that would last for years to come:

Yes, I can see you and you should be ashamed of yourself. Click to embiggen.

Yes, I can see you and you should be ashamed of yourself. Click to embiggen.

This is my favorite layout of all the ones I’ve ever managed to cobble together. My 36 year-old self would stare out at you with that slightly self-satisfied smirk on his face for at least the next 3 years. There were a few tweaks along the way, but no major changes until sometime late in November of 2006. For some reason the Internet Archive had trouble grabbing the stylesheets for scans it did near the end of that year, but by January 2007 the layout added the all imported MENU BAR:

The SEB you know and love now with smaller Glowering Face of Doom and a menu bar! Click to embiggen.

The SEB you know and love now with smaller Glowering Face of Doom and a menu bar! Click to embiggen.

It’s still the same basic layout, but my head isn’t as massive (or as bald) and it’s a little easier to get around to some of the extra stuff we had on the site and barely made use of because I’m ADD and there were video games to play. The IA didn’t scan SEB much during 2008 and it lost the stylesheet for a lot of the entries in 2009, but it’s clear this was the basic layout until at least November of 2009 when we made the switch to WordPress and my days as a template designer came to a screeching halt. There were a couple of other minor themes I did that never got picked up by the Internet Archive, but these were the major ones.

There was a brief period in December 2009 when I had a custom template I’d cobbled together that kinda sorta looked like the previous layout prior to the switch to WP, but it never worked 100% and looked crappy in comparison and I swapped it out for an overly complicated to customize WP template I found. Since then we’ve cycled through various templates none of which I’ve been completely happy with. The stuff that looks halfway decent is often missing some features of another theme that looks like crap but does what I want.

This current theme is far from my glory days as a mangler of HTML, but it at least has the right font in the header and, for the most part, the right color scheme. Maybe I’ll get ambitious and start looking through open source HTML editors again and see if I can take another crack at designing my very own WP template.

Yeah, and maybe monkeys will fly outta my butt too.

Spam comment of the day.

This has nothing to do with the entry. I just wanted to use it.

This has nothing to do with the entry. I just wanted to use it.

Despite all the stuff that’s been put into place by bloggers and Google to discourage the practice of leaving comment spam the spammers keep on trying. Ever since moving to WordPress I don’t think I’ve had a single piece of comment spam make it into the live comments on a page thanks to Akismet and having the blog set up so that your first comment is held in moderation until you’ve been approved at least one time. Yet every day I login and empty the spam queue of upwards of 350 to 650 spam comments.

I only give a cursory glance at the spam comments to make sure there aren’t any false positives and most of the time it’s the same shit over and over again, but every once in a while one of them will catch my attention. Here’s one from today that I found particularly amusing:

Paragraph writing is also a excitement, if you be acquainted with
after that you can write if not it is complicated to write.

Clearly English is not this person’s first language. That said, I’ve been puzzling over exactly what it is the author of this comment was trying to say. One of the “strategies” of comment spammers is to write something that sounds like it just might be a legitimate comment. For example, I get a lot of them that ask what blogging software I’m using even though it’s listed at the top and bottom of the screen. Or they’ll try to offer some faint praise or, occasionally, some lightweight criticism in hopes that you’d be fooled into thinking it’s legit. The vast majority of the time you don’t even need to look at the URL they’re leaving to see that it’s a spam comment. You can tell just by the comment itself.

The above appears to be an attempt at the faint praise approach, but it’s written so poorly that it just comes across as someone trying to make a patently obvious statement. Surely they could have gotten a better translation if they’d made use of Google Translate, but that would take too much effort I suppose (kinda like, you know, paying for legitimate advertising would). I can’t tell you why this particular comment spam grabbed my attention when so many others very much like it slide on by, but here you go.

You must log in to comment on SEB.

For the first time in 12 years I’m requiring folks who wish to leave a comment to log in before being able to do so. The primary reason for this change is comment spam. Even though Akismet catches 99% of comment spam it only automatically deletes them on posts more than 60 days old. Any entries newer than that and it goes into a spam queue which I need to clean out periodically lest the database grow to unreasonable size. For the past several weeks the comment spam on newer entries has reached a rate of almost 4,000 comments a day. It actually takes several attempts to clean the queue because it takes so long it times out and it’s not unusual for there to be 4 or 6 new spam comments as soon as the screen refreshes on the last attempt to empty it. I tried looking for some form of unintrusive captcha that might slow the pace and nothing seems to work and if I’m going to have a more intrusive captcha I may as well just have you log in and be done with it. Since making the change several days ago there hasn’t been a single spam comment to delete.

The other reason why I’ve gone with this option is the fact that you don’t have to register an account on SEB to log into it. You can use any of a half-dozen other accounts you may already have to verify who you are. You can log into SEB using your credentials from Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Tumblr, and even Steam. If you don’t use any of those services then you can create an account right here on SEB. All that’s required is a username, email address, and a password. I will not sell your email address to any third party, ever. One advantage to logging in is a much simpler comment form.  Just one box for writing the comment.

Hopefully this won’t be too much of a burden for the regulars who drop by. The amount of comments from non-regulars was low enough as to not be an issue in this decision. I’m sorry to have to go this route, but the amount of time I was spending trying to keep comment spam at bay makes it a necessary change.

A few features may be missing from SEB for a bit.

losingmyshitI don’t know if you’d noticed, but SEB has been slower than molasses in January as of late and I’ve been scratching my head trying to figure out why. It had gotten so bad that it wasn’t unusual for the Varnish cache system that Dreamhost uses to time out when trying to do things in the backend like delete spam comments in the queue. My first thought was it was a result of the massive spam attack SEB has been under as of late as the queue has been filling up with close to 3,000 spam comments in 24 hours. So the first fix I tried was to set the blog so only registered users could comment. This cut down dramatically on the comment spam (though, oddly, some unregistered spam is still getting into the queue), but didn’t change the performance of the site. OK, what next?

Turns out in the world of WordPress there’s a plugin for just about everything including trying to figure out why your site is so damned slow. I came across the WordPress Plugin Performance Profiler (P3) from the folks at GoDaddy.com. It scans your system and puts together nifty charts showing you the impact each of your plugins has on the performance of your site. So what was bogging SEB down? Oddly enough, it was Automattic’s own Jetpack plugin. This is a big plugin that adds a bunch of useful modules to self-hosted WordPress sites so that they more closely resemble the feature set you’d get at WordPress.com. Everything from some simple stat tracking to automatic publicizing to Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, to social sharing buttons, to blog and post email subscriptions, and so on. We used quite a few of its features here on SEB. It was convenient in that one plugin offered a crap load of features and was adding new ones all the time. We didn’t use every module, but we used a good number of them.

It turns out it’s one hell of a resource killer and a lot of WordPress bloggers heavily recommend against using it. According the the P3 plugin, Jetpack was responsible for 88% of load time for SEB. On average almost a full 9 seconds was spent dealing with plugins before the page could be rendered with Jetpack running. So the logical thing to do would be to deactivate it and see if it makes a difference. Only there was a problem. I couldn’t deactivate it. When I clicked the deactivate link in the plugins panel all it did was disconnect it from WordPress.com (you have to have a WordPress.com account to even use Jetpack even if you don’t use that account for anything else). After trying to deactivate it several times only to have it not deactivate I ended up ripping it out by its short and curlies by logging into the FTP account and deleting the directory by hand. Not a recommended way to uninstall a plugin because it leaves a lot of crap in your database, but it worked and I’ll clean up the database later. The result? P3 says the average amount of time spent processing plugins before the page loads is a mere 0.543 seconds. That’s a humongous difference. The odd thing is that Jetpack seemed to run pretty well for quite some time (I’ve used it pretty much since it first became available). Yes, it had an impact, but it wasn’t as huge as its been lately. I don’t know what’s changed, but I won’t be switching back to it anytime soon.

So the site is back to performing at a reasonable speed, but we’ve lost a lot of functionality in doing so. I’ve turned anonymous commenting back on (which means my spam queue will soon be overflowing again) and I’ll have to see if I can’t find a few high performance plugins to reinstate some of the features we lost in dropping Jetpack. I still use Jetpack on some of the smaller blogs I run for friends and family members and I’ll probably remove it from those sites as well as even on Momma’s Corner — which has considerably less traffic than SEB — it’s having a major impact on performance. If you’re using Jetpack and have noticed your site seems awfully slow then try removing it and see if things don’t improve. Drop me a note if there’s a particular feature we’ve lost that you relied on (I’m pretty sure email subscriptions is a big one) and I’ll see what I can do about finding a replacement plugin.