It might be time to pack up SEB and call it a day.

popequitSo the site’s been running very slow the past day and a half and today I put in a ticket with EngineHosting.com’s support to ask them to look at it. They said that my site (I host several blogs for family members, but SEB is the most trafficked of them all) was using a lot of RAM and CPU time and was impacting the shared server it was on. They restarted Apache on that server and it appears to have solved the problem for the moment, but they suggested I consider upgrading to one of their virtual server offerings. I’m sure the increased utilization is from the recent influx of visitors we had from Reddit the last week or so since I wrote the “miracles” rebuttal. It also appears to have attracted even more attempts at comment spam and WP hacking.

I already pay around $120 a quarter ($480 a year) for the hosting account I have. Moving up to the virtual server they recommended at EngineHosting would run $270 a quarter ($1080 a year), though they did say I might be able to get away with the smaller option that would only raise my costs by $15 a month ($135 a quarter) to begin with. If I were still blogging as regularly as I used to I would be very inclined to try at least the lowest level of virtual server, but I often go a week or more between posts. The majority of my traffic these days is from spammers and hackers trying to spam or brute-force their way into SEB. Most of the regulars have drifted off because I simply don’t update as much as I used to. Spending $480 a year is already hard enough to justify especially when I could be putting that towards a down payment on a house, or paying off a college loan, or having a second vehicle. I’ve been at this since December of 2001. It’ll officially be 12 years this coming December. The only things I’ve done longer than blogging are playing video games and watching Doctor Who.

I still enjoy getting the occasional entry up, but it’s very hard to justify the cost anymore. Perhaps I’ve dragged this out for as long as I can. Perhaps it’s time for a change.

Google is killing Reader and I’m hating all the possible replacements.

googlereadertombstoneGoogle announced recently that they’re going to close down their RSS aggregator called Reader due to declining usage and their desire to concentrate development resources in other areas. I’ve used Google Reader for years now, pretty much since it was launched in 2005. It’s how I keep up with the couple hundred different blogs and websites without having to visit each and every one of them in turn. Needless to say this announcement was very distressing, but all good things come to an end and it’s not like they’re the only RSS aggregator out there so I started looking into alternatives.

In the past few weeks it became clear that what Google considers a “small” group of users is still huge compared to anyone else as just about every other RSS aggregator I tried was swamped with people checking it out after the announcement. The three most recommended ones I tried were Feedly, Newsblur, and The Old Reader.

Newsblur was almost completely useless at the start because its servers were so overwhelmed by all the folks jumping ship. Things have settled down since then and I’ve had a chance to try it out a bit and it certainly seems to have the most features, but it’s also limited to 64 feeds with 10 stories max unless you subscribe to their service. It’s only $24 a year and it might be worth it, but I’ve not used it enough to make that determination yet. It’s one I’ll definitely be playing with more, but my initial impression is that it’s trying too hard to be everything to everyone and the fact that it requires a subscription to really be useful is a negative. It also doesn’t appear to be able to share items with anyone who isn’t a Newsblur user. I’ve gotten used to sharing items on my Google+ page and Newsblur doesn’t support that.

Feedly also was near useless in the immediate aftermath, but it has since become more stable. It wants to present your feeds in a magazine format that’s quite different from Reader’s layout. Ultimately it suffers from what I call “Apple Computer Syndrome” in that it’s very pretty but it wants you to do things its way instead of the way you’d want to do them.

I have a particular way that I go through my RSS feeds in Reader and getting Feedly to allow me to do the same thing has been a real pain in the ass. Some things can be set as default through the preferences option (full articles as opposed to excerpts with a pic next to it), but other things have to be configured on a per-feed basis (showing only unread vs all articles). Considering that I have 200+ feeds having to tell each and every one of them that I want to see both read and unread articles is damned annoying. How you sort feeds in Feedly is also a mystery to me. I want mine sorted alphabetically, but by default it sorts them by who has the newest content. I seem to have somehow gotten it to sort alphabetically, but I have no idea how I did that.

It’s also slow compared to Reader and it becomes even slower if you have a crappy network (like I do at work). Lastly it seems to have a habit of skipping over some articles in a feed. I’ll get to the end of new articles, but it’ll still show 5 or 6 as still unread and if I click on the feed again it’ll suddenly show new items between the items I’ve already seen as if it had them in its pockets and just forgot to show them the first time around. But it is very pretty and it will let me share items to my Google+ page as well as Twitter and Facebook and a couple of others I don’t recognize so it has that going for it.

The Old Reader is an attempt to clone Google Reader from back when it was more of a self-contained system. When you shared items back then it wasn’t posted to your Google+ steam because Google+ didn’t exist back then. Instead it was only shared with other GReader users that had marked you as a friend or subscribed to your shares. TOR also suffered from the sudden influx of new users, but it didn’t seem to impact the functioning of the application so much as it did it’s ability to import your Google Reader subscription lists. You can export your subscriptions as an OPML file that you can use to import them into another RSS aggregator. I did with this TOR and it was nearly two weeks before it got around to actually processing it because so many other people were trying to do the same thing.

That said, TOR is the closest so far to Reader in terms of how it does things and it’s relatively speedy once it gets your subscriptions imported. The ability to rearrange subfolders has a couple of annoying quirks, but you can work around them. It’s definitely a work in progress and its performance will vary as a result, but the biggest negative against it is the same one Newsblur has. That it will only share with other users of TOR.

So, for the moment, I’m still trying to use GReader until they yank the plug or I find an aggregator that does everything I want. Alas, Google appears to have broken GReader’s ability to share items with Google+. When I try to do so these days it’ll pop up the box and I’ll get halfway through typing in a comment only to have the box suddenly disappear and all my key-presses interpreted as keyboard shortcuts screwing up where I am and losing the share in the process. It’s damned annoying. So I keep hopping back and forth between Feedly and GReader and finding I’m not happy with either one.

Granted, in the grand scheme of things RSS aggregators are pretty low on the list of most import things ever and it’s definitely a First World Problem I’m bitching about, but that won’t stop me from pouting over it.

From now on NPR will be known as NPR.

I’m a huge fan of National Public Radio. It being what I listen to most these days as I can’t stand most of the music stations in our area and I’m not ready to pay for satellite radio. I’ve called it by its initials for years now and, come to think of it, so have they so it’s a little amusing to see they’re finally making it official:

So the Washington-based organization has quietly changed its name to its familiar initials. Much like the corporate names KFC or AT&T, the initials now stand for the initials.

NPR says it’s abbreviating the name it has used since its debut in 1971 because it’s more than radio these days. Its news, music and informational programming is heard over a variety of digital devices that aren’t radios; it also operates news and music Web sites.

Hence: “NPR is more modern, streamlined,” says Vivian Schiller, NPR’s chief executive. She points to other “re-brandings” by media organizations, such as Cable News Network, which has been plain old CNN for years.

via National Public Radio is changing its name to NPR.

Honestly I’ve never understood this trend. I can only assume it’s based on a cynical assumption about the ever-lowering IQ of the average American. Who the hell can remember Kentucky Fried Chicken these days? Better shorten it to KFC so it’ll be much easier to store in the handful of brain cells most people still have working after eating all that fried chicken!

The one thing I can see that has come out of this trend is an opportunity for the conspiracy theorists to start up some ridiculous myth about the company. The one for KFC being that they were forced by the government to change their name because they grow all their chickens in vats and they can’t legally be called chicken anymore!

I wonder what myth they’ll come up with for NPR? Leave your ideas in the comments.

SEB makes the jump to WordPress.

After many hours of work and some 22 export files with an average of 300 entries per file (highest was 500, lowest was 150), I have successfully migrated SEB from ExpressionEngine to WordPress. I will be writing a post about how I did this which will include the templates a I used and details on all the problems that cropped up along the way. It’s far from perfect, we’re currently missing approximately 323 entries and 4,471 comments that I’ll have add in later and there were all sorts of snags along the way, but it works so long as you’re dedicated to the process. This blog is eight years old and has now transitioned from MovableType to ExpressionEngine to WordPress and there was a fair amount of crap in the older entries that needed fixing along the way.

Expect the theme to change on you over the next few days as I look for something I feel good about to use until I can find the time to learn how to whip up my own WP theme. Also if you’ve ever submitted an entry when SEB was under ExpressionEngine then you already have an account created under WordPress. The trouble is that WP doesn’t seem to have bothered to import your email addresses into your account so I’ll have to go through and edit all 91 of you to put in your email address. The account was created using whatever your Screen Name under EE was, not what you used to login to EE. So DOF, for example, already has an account as decrepitoldfool. If you think you have an account already try using the recover password option with the email address you registered with as that’s what I’ll be putting in so you can recover your passwords.

Another thing you’ll have to do is resubscribe to any entries you want to receive comment notifications from. WP doesn’t have a native comment subscription option so I’ve added a plugin that gives that functionality. You do have the option of subscribing to an entries’ RSS feed as an alternative if you don’t want to have to leave a comment to subscribe.

I’ll probably be adding more plugins over the days to come as I figure out what other functionality would be useful. If you have suggestions on themes or plugins you think would make a good fit, let me know. Or if you have an account already and want me to put in a different email address, again, let me know.

SEB will be changing platforms once again.

I’ve mentioned previously that I was thinking of moving SEB off of ExpressionEngine and onto some other platform, likely WordPress, and now I’ve finally made the decision to do so. Not everyone cares, but for those who are curious as to why I thought I should take a moment and explain.

We’ve been running on the ExpressionEngine platform for the last five years. Before that SEB, and the other blogs I host for friends and family, ran under MovableType up until the release of version 3.0. I originally made the switch to EE due to the licensing fiasco that accompanied the release of MT 3.0. By the time Six Apart came to their senses and made MT licenses reasonable again we were already running on ExpressionEngine and digging all the cool new goodies it had. It turned out to be a great move as EE had a lot of stuff in it that MT didn’t and continued to add lots of cool stuff as the years rolled by and the platform built up a market for itself.

As it turns out, however, the market that the folks at EllisLab found themselves supporting was slowly becoming less and less blogger-types and more and more web application developer types. It seems that ExpressionEngine not only made for a fantastic blogging platform, but for a pretty damned impressive website building tool at a cost far less than many other CMS platforms. Being smart people the folks at EllisLab took that ball and ran with it. This is most evident in the upcoming release of ExpressionEngine 2.0, which is currently in beta testing and which I got to play around with for a bit. One of the changes that drives the point home is the fact that you no longer define “weblogs” in the system, but “channels.” Which is, if you know how EE works, actually a much better way to describe things. ExpressionEngine now drives some of the bigger sites out there and people are using it to build all manner of cool web applications and, honestly, the fact of the matter is that EE has outgrown me.

Which is exactly how I worded it in the email I sent the EllisLab folks letting them know I was dropping out of the beta test and moving off the platform. From everything I’ve seen ExpressionEngine 2.0 is going to be pretty damned amazing for the people that have the skills to take advantage of it fully, which would be the professional web developers. That’s not to say that EE 2.0 wouldn’t be an excellent blogging platform, but that’s no longer the primary focus because it’s attracted a market for which that is only a small part of what they’re going to use it for. That means some of the features I’ve been hoping to see implemented probably won’t be anytime soon. Again, not because they’re bad features, but because they’re not what the overall EE marketplace is looking for. And that’s as it should be.

WordPress has made a lot of progress since I first considered it five years ago and it now has a lot of the things I switched to EE to get, plus some of the things I’ve been waiting for EE to add. It is, more than ever, squarely aimed at bloggers and it’s enjoying a huge popularity as a result. If I had the PHP and mySQL programming skills I could easily develop modules and extensions for EE that would do all the stuff I’ve been hoping for, but I don’t have those skills. WordPress already has a lot of that stuff anyway so the sensible thing is to switch the tool I’m using to the one that best fits my needs and desires.

The point I’m trying to make is that I’m not switching because I suddenly consider ExpressionEngine inadequate. I think it’s great. It still has one of the easiest templating systems I’ve ever used considering how powerful it is. I will still recommend EE to people who are looking for an excellent low-cost CMS package that is easily modifiable and extensible with an active and helpful community behind it, because that’s just what you’d get with EE. I’m switching because the direction I want to head in and the one EE is headed in are diverging enough that it’s the right move to make. I will still be keeping an eye on EE as time goes by just as I do with MovableType. I won’t rule out the possibility of switching yet again because you never know what another five years will bring.

All that said, the change won’t be happening over night. I have already developed templates that’ll make exporting everything from EE over to WP a relatively painless process, but we will lose a few things along the way. First off is the SEBpedia, which is powered by the built-in Wiki module of EE. It doesn’t seem like it gets used all that much anyway so it’s probably not a huge loss, but I may try to find a way to preserve the data it has.

Second thing we’ll lose is the vast majority of user accounts. WordPress will auto-create accounts for people who have had at least one entry that they’ve submitted, but it won’t auto-create accounts for commenters. Those of you who do get an auto-created account will have to use the password recovery option to reset the password so you can login so be sure you have a current email address in your user account before we make the switch.

The third thing that we’ll lose is cross-links within past entries until I can be bothered to go through and fix them all. The basic URL structure will be changing so there will be a lot of broken links in old entries that refer to other entries. It’ll also take awhile for Google to re-index the site and update its database to reflect the new links as well. It’s a bummer, but it can’t be avoided easily.

The last thing that we’ll lose is cross-site user accounts. With EE if you registered on SEB then your account would work on my mother’s blog, my sister’s blog, and so on because they were all part of the same system. With WP I’ll have to have a separate install for each site so if you want an account on all of them you’ll have to register at each one separately.

Beyond that I think most stuff should make the transition. I’ll probably start with one of the freely available themes out there and then once everything is up and running I’ll work on learning how the WP templating system works. As always your thoughts, comments, and suggestions are encouraged.

Thinking of changes with regards to SEB.

I’ve been kicking around the possibility of renaming my blog. Stupid Evil Bastard isn’t its first name, originally it was called Wandering Randomly Amongst The Blogs which, in retrospect, is kinda stupid. It became SEB on April 14, 2002 and has served us well ever since. There are two reasons I’ve been debating a name change:

First, and this could just be me, but I think I’ve mellowed out a bit since I first started blogging and my rants aren’t quite as ranty as they once were. The words “Stupid Evil Bastard” tend to put a certain angry-blogger expectation into people’s heads when they arrive for the first time and I’m not sure I’m living up to that image anymore. I’m really not all that stupid or evil for that matter, though I suppose some would say the bastard label fits fairly well.

Second, it could actually impact the reputation of an old friend of mine. I’ve only mentioned his name a couple of times over the years, and I won’t repeat it here because it’d bring SEB up in hits on Google for his name, but you can see them in the links I provided. One is in the main entry itself and the second one is in the comments where I posted pics in an attempt to prove how geeky I looked as a young man. That old friend of mine has gone on to work for a number of big charitable organizations over the years and is now one of the VPs for the Knight Foundation. Needless to say, reputation is everything when you hold the sort of job he holds so when you do a Google search for his name and one of the links that comes up contains the words “Stupid Evil Bastard” in it, well, you can imagine how there are some folks out there that could misconstrue things. At the moment SEB is link number 52 in a Google search which makes it high enough that a lot of folks will still see it. I’ve known this guy since Kindergarten and while we had a bit of a falling out shortly after he got out of college, we’ve recently been getting caught up with each other. I still consider him a very dear friend and it’s certainly the oldest of the friendships I still have. I’d love to talk about him more, but I don’t because I know it would show up in Google eventually.

When it was just my own reputation that might take a hit from the name it wasn’t a big deal, though I’m sure it’s probably played a part in how long it took me to land jobs after being laid off. Still the only person I thought I was harming with it was myself and that was the price I pay for being me. Now I find myself wondering if there’s any other friends I’ve written about over the years who have been inconvenienced by having SEB show up in search results for their name on Google. I know there’s plenty of people I’ve ranted about that weren’t happy to have SEB show up in Google searches for them.

The whole situation is somewhat reminiscent of my realization that I probably should have used a pseudonym from the beginning had it occurred to me that it would become so popular so as to protect my own rep on Google searches when I was laid off. So I’m left feeling a little torn about a name that I have a bit of a fondness for, but which may not be the best choice out of the ones I was considering. Though I have to admit that the other name I was considering—Young Militant Santas For A Better Tomorrow—arguably wasn’t much better. If I stick with SEB I’ll probably go through the couple of old entries and edit out my friend’s name (and pic in one case) in hopes that Google will eventually drop SEB from his Google searches and I’ll be a lot more self-conscious about names of friends and family members I use in blog entries. If I change the name it’ll still take awhile for some of the old entries to drop from Google searches, but the problem should work itself out over time, but there’s the problem of what the hell do I switch the name to? Nothing I’ve come up with so far has tickled my fancy all that much so that’s a problem in its own right. Of course the third option would be to scrap the whole thing as it currently stands and start over from a new beginning with an empty archive and a new name. A fourth option would be to pack it in and drop blogging altogether, but I’m not sure I’m at that point yet. While I think I’m not blogging up to past standards I still think I have enough to say to keep going at this for awhile.

I figured I’d air these thoughts and see what you guys think. I’ve known several people who have changed their blog’s name and even started over from scratch and are as popular today as they ever were. Have any of you other bloggers entertained similar thoughts? What did you decide to do and why? And if I were to change the name, what do you think would be a fitting one?