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.

A belated 12th Blogiversary to SEB.

It’s probably a sign that I’ve been at this blogging thing for far too long that I forgot, again, my own blogiversary. As of December 2nd, I’ve been running this blog for a full 12 years. You’ll forgive me if I take a moment to be impressed with myself.

There’s been more than one occasion in the past where I came close to packing it in — one of them not so long ago — and somehow I ended up changing my mind or finding a way to keep it going. This despite many lean years where employment was infrequent or non-existent. There’s been a lot of folks who have stopped by and hung around for awhile that I don’t see much these days, and there’s a few faces that have been here almost since the very start. To this day I am still humbled and amazed that folks drop by regularly to see what nonsense I’m babbling on about at the moment. I don’t have as much to say these days as I did in the past, but I still enjoy sharing whatever comes to mind.

Thank you for dropping in and participating. There are few other things outside of breathing that I’ve done for longer than this blog has been around. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll still be here pecking away at the keys in another 12 years.

And now here’s a completely unrelated picture that I thought was funny as shit:

Snape-candles-floating

The secret to prolific blogging is small, bite sized chunks.

I’ve been trying to get back into blogging more regularly in part so that the folks who still come here often have something to read and in part to try and build up an audience again. So I decided to take a look at my archives at the early months where I had lots of entries such as March of 2002 (50) and January of 2003 (71). What struck me about the vast majority of those entries is that they are very small. Often just a handful of sentences in a single paragraph with a few consisting of as little as two sentences. There’s also a dearth of pictures of any kind and when I wanted to point out an interesting article I’d read someplace else I often just linked to it saying “go read this” instead of quoting sections of it.

This picture has nothing to do with the article. I just thought it was funny. Expect more shit like this.

This picture has nothing to do with the article. I just thought it was funny. Expect more shit like this. It’s hard to see, but that’s Christopher Walken. Get it?

I skipped around over the months and could slowly see how my blogging style morphed into longer pieces filled with blockquotes and pictures, but fewer and fewer entries overall until we get to the situation we have today where I’m lucky if I have more than 7 entries in a month. There’s a couple of factors that contributed to this that I can see.

First is the fact that the longer a blog post is the longer it takes to write. It’s not uncommon for a post like the one I did on the so-called atheist megachurches to eat up several hours of effort spread out over the course of a day. I might start writing it before heading into work, adding pieces during short breaks at work (over lunch or while waiting for a laptop to stage), and finishing it off in a couple of hours after I get home in the evening. Part of this is rewrites and editing in an attempt to get my message across clearly and part of it is research that I’ll do while writing the entry itself. Sometimes I’ll destroy whole sections after coming up with a new point to make during the periods when I’m not actively working on the entry. The atheist megachurch entry flowed out of me pretty smoothly taking a mere four and a half hours total to write, but those hours have big gaps between edits.

The second factor is the rise of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ which are perfect for blurting out a couple of sentences about something you thought other people would be interested in knowing, but that you don’t have a whole lot to say about. While my Twitter and Facebook accounts don’t tend to be particularly active (I find 140 characters to be very limiting and I generally just don’t like Facebook), my output on Google+ is as prolific as ever. I posted 10 items yesterday alone; almost all of which fit the style of blogging I did in the early days. The vast majority have a sentence or two and then the link to whatever it is I’m sharing. If I’m really worked up there might be a full paragraph and, rarely, there’ll be a posting that has three paragraphs of ranting. In fact, looking over my G+ timeline it’s clear that I’m sharing on average 10 to 15 items a day there. Even my Facebook sharing has gotten more frequent with items I think friends and family members would want to know about, though most of what ends up on my FB profile is still just Tweets imported in. My blog ends up being left to the longer posts which I write much less frequently due to amount of time they take. I tried to solve this problem in the past by using a plugin that would import my Google+ entries into SEB so folks could see and comment on them, but some folks thought they had to be Google+ members to see the entire entry (they didn’t, it was all imported into SEB) or leave comments (they didn’t, the comments worked the same as before) so I dropped it. These days my shortest SEB posts tend to be for YouTube videos I found that I think my mother would love to see so I post them here instead of Google+ where I would normally share them. My mother reads my blog, but she refuses to join any of the social media websites so anything I share on G+, FB or Twitter she’ll never see.

Looking back at the archives I’m amazed at some of the very short entries I wrote. There’s more than a few that are a single sentence consisting of some random thought that would’ve fit perfectly into Twitter. There’s even a few that consist of sentence fragments that tie into a sentence fragment used for the title of the entry. I can remember a time when I felt a little guilty about those short entries because folks would come by the site and there’d be a couple of tiny entries and I’d worry they’d felt it wasn’t worth the effort of launching their browsers, but it seems most folks didn’t mind. So I’m going to try and regress back a bit and start sharing some of the stuff I’d toss up on Twitter or G+ here on SEB instead. SEB is my home base on the Internet and there’s no good reason I shouldn’t do the majority of my sharing here. I’ll still probably post a shit ton of stuff on G+ with occasional spurts on Twitter and Facebook, but I’m going to make more of an effort to share stuff here at my virtual fortress of solitude. So expect more frequent, if smaller, content on SEB. Some of the entries might even be tiny or consist entirely of a funny picture. It worked in the past and perhaps a return to my blogging roots is just what SEB needs.

My appearance on the West X Midwest podcast.

For those of you who didn’t watch it live, which is probably the vast majority of you, here’s the YouTube video of my appearance on the West X Midwest podcast:

If you prefer to listen instead of watch you can do so either at Libsyn or on iTunes. However you go about it, I make my appearance about half-way through. Don’t skip ahead, though, as the whole thing is worth a listen. In fact, if you’ve spent much time around SEB you’ve probably heard (read) most of what I say anyway. Still, for those of you in love with the melodious sound of my voice, this should fit the bill.

Couple of things I’ve been working on…

techsupportcatSo this past weekend I thought it was high time I take another crack at designing my own WordPress theme. I figured I’d keep it simple and just adapt the one I used to use on ExpressionEngine over. It’s ugly, but it’s me.

As you can tell by looking at it, I ended up just switching to someone else’s premade theme. It didn’t occur to me that it’s been almost 4 years since we made the move to WordPress (November 7th, 2009) and a lot has changed in that time. Not only do I still not have a good clue how to make a WordPress theme, but all of the tools I used to use to create my crappy HTML have dried up gone away.

I used to use a specialized HTML editor called Homesite which was originally produced by a company named Bradbury Software which was bought by Allaire that was acquired by Macromedia which itself was eventually bought by Adobe. Adobe decided to stop selling Homesite in, as it turns out, May of 2009. I’ve yet to find a replacement editor I like as much and I’ve never mastered WYSIWYG systems. I’d use my old copy of Homesite, but when I bought it it was a digital download and have long since misplaced my copy and its activation key.

The other major tool I used to use was a image editor called Ulead PhotoImpact. It was a moderate skill editor that could do both raster and vector graphics and I’d been using it since 1996 when I created my first website. It’s arguably the one image editing program I’ve ever really mastered. Ulead was acquired by Corel in 2006 and eventually they discontinued development of PhotoImpact in 2008. I have a copy of the last version produced someplace in my mess of CDs, but I haven’t been able to locate it. Fortunately Corel still sells PhotoImpact even if they’re no longer developing it so I can at least pick it up again at some point.

Not having spare cash at the moment, I spent a good chunk of the weekend playing with various free/open source HTML and image editors to see if there was anything that felt close to what I was used to. I’ve been using Paint.NET for awhile and it’s not bad, but it doesn’t open Ulead image files which I ended up using for a lot of SEB’s graphics back in the day. I’ve tried to learn Gimp, but I think it’s way beyond my skill level as it Photoshop (which I could never afford anyway). There’s a couple of OS WYSIWYG HTML editors out there and I haven’t a clue where to begin to figure them out. Most of the text based editors seem to have HTML as a secondary consideration or go so way beyond HTML that they’re full of stuff I don’t need. So I ended up giving up and playing Black Ops II instead. I may take another stab at it in the coming week as I’d really like to bring back the old Halloween layouts, but I’ve not even started on figuring out how to plug the WordPress codes in I’d need to make a template work. The way things are going I wouldn’t hold my breath if you were anticipating my craptastic HTML coding skills to be put to use anytime soon.

bearhookersSo the other thing I’m working on involves trying to offer my tech support skills to a wider audience. Google just started a new service calls Helpouts which makes use of their Hangouts service to allow folks to provide services for free or for a charge. I was invited to be a service provider and I thought I might offer it to help folks dealing with viruses or other technical issues where their PC is still operational enough to handle a Hangouts session. In addition to support video and audio it’ll be possible to grant me access to remotely control your machine to make changes. I’ve not set up a listing yet as I’m still trying to decide what things I could help with or what kind of tutoring I could offer and how much to charge and what hours I’ll be available and so on. A few regulars have asked me for help from time to time over the years and this seemed like a good way to facilitate making it happen more often. It would require folks to have a Google+ account so some might not want to go that route, but for those who don’t mind it’s a flexible option.

I’d love to hear your suggestions on what services you’d think you’d like me to offer and what rates you think would be reasonable. That is assuming there’s still enough folks hanging around with an interest in having my assistance from time to time. I could even help with getting up and running with blogging, though creating custom WordPress themes is obviously out of the question at the moment. Let me know what you think.

I’ve updated the About SEB page with a commenting policy.

unbearable_consequencesI’ve noticed a rash of drive-by commenters who are using obviously fake email addresses in their comments either because they’re worried about me selling their email to a third party (I’ve never done so and never will) or because they don’t want to receive notifications when their stupid comment gets a reply.

The most recent example comes from a new comment on the Myth of Horus thread by someone calling themselves PRMM. He or she decided to use an email address of notice “at” newsrap.com which looks to me like it’s a general contact address for a commercial website. A website, as it turns out, which is defunct. If you’re too much of a pussy to use an email address that you actually own in the comments you leave here then I’m just going to trash them and you’ll have wasted your time. I’m not going to have SEB sending notifications to random email addresses of people or websites that didn’t leave the comment. If you don’t want to get notifications then don’t check the boxes opting in to them and you won’t get them.

I don’t have a lot of rules regarding leaving comments on SEB. Using a valid email address is one of those few rules. Certainly not using general contact emails for websites you have nothing to do with counts among them.

SEB has moved to a new home.

If you’re seeing this then the migration to the new webhost was successful. Yay me!

You know, considering how little I actually understand mySQL, I’m a fucking genius.