April 25, 2008

First There Was Weird Science …

… And now there’s Lulu-science 🙂 Laurie invented the term yesterday when talking about my curiosity to know how many places you are bumped up the ranks with one book sale on Lulu.

Thanks to my friend Ginosion, who bought a copy of Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog, we are well on the way to learning what the impact of one book sale is on Lulu rankings 🙂 Of course, the thing is, we probably have to wait a month for the next tabulation of rankings and so it’ll be a while before the next update on Lulu-science, but I will be sure to keep everybody posted as to how things go. (Of course, don’t let that stop you from buying a copy of my book, if you’ve been considering it 😀 Or simply download the free e-book version, see what you think of it and if you like it, then go buy the printed version …)

In other news, I am back to posting more regularly. I don’t know if this has anything to do with the switch back to WordPress or if I simply had been too tired of blogging, but I do find that I want to blog again. I do wonder if the WordPress interface has something to do with it though because in using it, I seem to find the WordPress control panel easier and more responsive than the MovableType one. Of course, this is not empirical data, just subject opinion …

July 21, 2006

Tagging the mix

OK, I switched back to MovableType a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been working on getting Blog to do every other little thing I wanted working in conjunction with MovableType. That’s also mostly done now (yes, expect a new Blog beta soon – I just need to test this build for a few days to make sure that everything works fine and to add a few more features for "classic" blog – such as a new <$BlogTags> tag :p)

Now that Blog works the way I want with MovableType, I’ve been turning my attention to the latest features that come with MovableType 3.3 🙂 One of these is the ability to use tagging. What that means (if you’re not up on tagging) is that you can use a set of keywords to tag the subjects (or areas) that a particular entry deals with. I mostly use tagging because I love tag clouds – they give me a more visual idea of the kind of subjects that I talk mostly about and what is important to me on a long term basis :p

Till MovableType 3.3, I was faking the tags. I was actually using categories to give the appearance of tags. The problem with categories is that they are a bit more static than tags. You have to first create a category and then set it up before you can use it. On the other hand, with tags, all you do is simply specify any keyword/tag you want on the tag field and the blogging framework handles all the nitty gritty stuff behind the scenes. So, being utterly lazy, it was no wonder that I opted to use tags :p

The problem was, that I had already set up all my entries in Blog using categories and I really hate to duplicate work. I didn’t want to have to go through hundreds of entries, look at the categories and then set up tags for them. I got around this in Blog by providing an option in the latest beta which asks you at the time of upgrade whether you want to convert categories to tags. But what about MovableType? I could have edited all the existing entries in Blog and have published to MovableType again but that also sounds too much like work :p So I sat down and started working on a new PHP script which would convert existing categories in a MovableType blog to tags.

The result is a new script which seems to work fairly well 🙂 You can find it under the Blogging Scripts section on my site if you need this particular functionality. Just remember that the script works only with MovableType 3.3 or later …

July 7, 2006

Site and Blog ….

Well, the site is coming along fairly OK 🙂 So now that the transition seems to be over and MovableType working fairly OK, I’ve been turning my attention to what MT offers and how I can leverage it.

One of the first things to fall under my searching eye was tags :p Now I’ve been talking about tags before and my efforts to implement them in a way that would work with Blog and whatever remote blogging platform that I used. WordPress didn’t actually do much in the way to support this out of the box – at least, not when I last checked. MT on the other hand, supports tags in a big way – especially in their upcoming 3.3 release.

In fact, MT supports tagging via the XMLRPC interface as well! The uploaded entry structure via XMLRPC has allowance for a tag field and so all I’d have to do from Blog would be to simply provide a place to enter the tags in the Blog interface and then upload the added tags with an entry and MT would take care of the rest. What could be more perfect? :p

The problem here is of course that I’d have to make another database change. As I’ve explained before, this is where I’m stuck with Blog at the moment. It looks as if the HTMLEdit author has disappeared again. He does this every once in a while but unfortunately, what this means is that I can’t proceed further with the current work on Blog till either he comes back or I find (and fix) the bug myself. At the moment, it looks as if the latter course of action is the only one available …

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Posted by Fahim at 7:59 am  |  No Comments

July 5, 2006

Moving the type …

Yes, as some of you might have noticed already, I’m back to using MovableType 🙂 There is less server load, in certain ways it’s much more configurable and (as I keep saying) I do like their anti-spam options much more than I like the WordPress solutions. Sure, there are downsides. I can’t have dynamic stuff like calendars which show the current date :p But overall, I think this is a better solution to go with.

The changeover itself was fairly easy. It took me about a day to modify my old script for moving data from Movable Type to WordPress and to convert it to move data from WordPress to MovableType 🙂 The testing took a bit longer and I had to do some rewriting as I discovered issues. Somewhere along the way, I also found out about MovableType 3.3 beta and had to again adapt the script for the single relevant database change that I found there. I have put up the scripts here if anybody wants to use them.

Of course, once the data was transferred over safely from WordPress, I had to re-do the templates that I used on my site and the creation and tweaking of templates took about another day. Was I ready for posting after that? Oh, no :p I now had to test posting with Blog to see that I could post from my desktop to my new MT based blog using Blog. This resulted in further code changes. Not because Blog wouldn’t publish to MT but due to a curious problem which arose due to this particular set of circumstances.

Blog keeps track of what entries have been published to a remote server. I had already published the entries for my WordPress based blog. But the MT blog has different entry IDs than the WP blog did. So I couldn’t simply switch remote blogs. I could have wiped everything on the server and published all the entries from my desktop via Blog to generate new entry IDs but then I would have lost the comments on the server since Blog doesn’t track comments when publishing via XMLRPC (mostly because none of the APIs provide a way to download comments). So, I had to add new functionality to Blog which would allow me to synchronize existing entries with those on a remote server. Adding that functionality and testing it took some more time.

Now, I’m finally ready to post to the blog again using Blog :p So let’s see how this one goes …

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Posted by Fahim at 6:33 am  |  2 Comments

July 1, 2006

Vacillations of the vague kind

I am thinking of switching back to MovableType once again :p The reason? I am tired of dynamic pages and the headaches they bring with them 🙂 At one point in time, when I first switched to WordPress from MovableType, I was really happy with dynamic pages and all the nifty things they allow you to do. But as time has passed and I’ve come to consider load on the server, spidering by search engine robots etc., I’m beginning to think that perhaps static pages are a much better option.

For instance, I notice that the Google spiders are hitting my WP-Cache pages. Those pages are ephemeral – they will be there for an hour today but gone tomorrow. So why are the search spiders looking for old pages again and again. How much load does that put on the system?

Being in website hosting, I know how much load is put on the server by dynamic sites which depend on database queries. I don’t really want to put that kind of load on my host’s server. I know that I don’t actually put that kind of load on their server because I don’t have a really popular site. But what if the traffic to my site were to increase? I am not sure and I don’t know if I want to find out.

Of course, there are other reasons. I don’t like the pace at which WP development is going nor the direction they seem to be taking. There isn’t that much being done about combating spam for instance. The efforts are all in the form of plugins and none of them seem to be really effective.

So, I’ve been looking at MovableType. They do have the features I want from a blogging platform. The free personal version even allows multiple blogs – something that I’ve been complaining about in WordPress for a while now :p The only snag at the moment is that I hate MT’s import feature because it relies on a text file. All of the WP to MT migration scripts rely on MT’s clunky text-file based import. I think I might have to write a new script which simply transfers the content from one database to another and I should be set to start testing the new MT to see if I can work with it 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 6:38 am  |  2 Comments

June 21, 2006

Gaps and geysers

This unfortunately, is what happens each time I start writing – my blog goes in to spurt mode before it stops altogether :p The last time I started a novel, I think the blog went on a hiatus for a year and most of the regulars stopped visiting because they probably thought I was dead 🙂 This time so far, I’ve managed to at least make an entry every other day but the longer I keep writing, the more likely it is that the blog will start to suffer. So I came up with a plan :p

What’s the plan? The plan is to make at least a short entry every other day instead of my usually long rambling ones. Actually, the short entry might be easier for most people to read than my rambles – but then again, this entry already seems to be well on its way to being a ramble because I haven’t even gotten to the subject matter of today’s post. Which is a fairly funny video that I discovered online 🙂

What do you get when you combine two guys, a couple of spare lab coats, protective eyewear, 200 liters of Diet Coke and over 500 Mentos mints? The answer? Watch the video below to find out :p

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Posted by Fahim at 6:32 am  |  No Comments

June 15, 2006

Are spammers winning?

I don’t know what is going on anymore. There used to be several highly touted spam prevention efforts for WordPress a few months ago. But there has been no word from any of them in a while and comment and trackback spam actually seems to be on the rise again. Have the spammers won? Have the developers given up? (Or to get really paranoid, been bought off by the spammers? :p)

For quite a long time, I would get one or two spam messages a day and that was OK. It would be caught by whatever spam combatting plugin I was using and it would sit there in my moderation/spam queue and I would come by every couple of days and delete the messages. The spam still gets caught but now there’s like 20-30 messages a day instead of the 2 or 3 a day. Me being a lazy guy, it is much more time consuming to have to go through all the caught spam, verify that none of it is legit and then to delete it all.

I tried WordPress Hashcash in the hope that that would stop the spam being submitted in the first place. It didn’t even seem to slow them down :p I then tried Anti-spam Image but I still got around 25 spam comments overnight. So, the methods designed to ensure that spam never gets submitted to your blog at all don’t seem to work too well. The methods designed to stop spam from getting published do work but end up in creating a lot of work for you because you have to spend time wading through the chaff just on the off-chance there is some wheat hiding in there. What do you do? I don’t know. I guess the solution would be to code something of my own but I really don’t want to get into coding right now :p

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Posted by Fahim at 7:06 am  |  No Comments

June 2, 2006

Scavenger hunt

There are days when I just spend all of my time hunting for something. No, not the meaning of life :p I’d set my sights on a specific set of features for an app and then I’d go hunting. There’s a lot of interesting stuff such a hunt turns up but sometimes it ends up being just a waste of time :p

Following up on yesterday’s comments about a good blogging client which supports the MetaWeblog API, I launched a search for such a client. Sure, I found lots and lots of them but the question is, were they any good? :p Most of the ones I found, I’ve added to the list of clients provided at the above wikipedia entry. Not sure if that entry will remain as it is but if you’re interested, you can take a look there 🙂

Basically, I was looking for the following features – full MetaWeblog API support (including the uploading of images – no FTP!), should fetch the complete post (most of the clients I tested fetched only the first part of the post if there was a more … tag), should have a WYSIWYG editor, should fetch all categories correctly from the server and mark each post with the correct categories. Those were the major features. In the "nice to have" section you have, the ability to fetch and save old posts from the server and the option to fetch only posts made by yourself.

Most of the clients I tried out failed the "must have" list of features. Quite a few of them did not fetch the full post for some reason – I’m guessing that they implement the MetaWeblog API but don’t look at the text returned by the more part of the entry for some reason or other. And an interesting thing was that there were a lot of clients out there which use the .NET Framework – I guess apps using the .NET Framework are going to be as common as VB apps soon! Wait, what am I saying? VB now use the .NET Framework :p

Yes, all poking fun at the .NET Framework aside, I found all the apps using the framework to be rather clunky, glitchy and slow. Sometimes things would work and sometimes things just didn’t. It gave me a rather bad taste in the mouth after a while. But moving on, I found only a few clients which actually met my standards – BlogJet, Anconia RocketPost and Chrysanth WebStory. I must mention that BlogWizard appeared to be capable of meeting the standards but I could never get it to work well or reliably. I was able to look at a post it fetched by opening it in a text editor and the post had everything but the category info but I could never open the post in BlogWizard itself :p

As far as the successful candidates go, I don’t like the editing interface in BlogJet since it seems to be a bit minimal but it does seem to do the job very competently. RocketPost is the one with the most bells and whistles and the one I would call the closest to my ideal. It had only one issue that I could find – it consistently removes an HMTL comment tag that I placed at the beginning of each entry. This comment marks where the system would later insert a Google AdSense code and so it was irritating :p WebStory had a lot of bells and whistles as well but while it fetched the category list correctly from the remote server, for some reason, it wasn’t assigning them to the posts at all when it fetched posts. Besides, it seemed to have set limits on post titles when the remote server didn’t – this was annoying.

Unfortunately, all of my final choices are commercial apps and while I like RocketPost, I am not about to pay $99 for the professional version which supports multiple blogs. (The home version costs $37). BlogJet on the other hand is $40 and does support multiple blogs. Of course, given that I still can’t find something within my price range that has everything I want, I might be better off simply coding the features I want into Blog :p Though looking at all these new blogging clients has made me re-think the user interface in Blog. Hmm …

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Posted by Fahim at 7:24 am  |  No Comments

April 12, 2006

The template tango

The design for this site (Solipsistic Meanderings that is, not the original Developer’s Corner) was originally made when the blog was implemented using Movable Type. I knew exactly the kind of look I wanted and I spent quite a bit of time in getting the template for the site to look the way I wanted it to be. I was really happy with how the site design turned out when it was finally complete.

Then came my switch to WordPress and I was faced with the prospect of either going with a new template or switching the Movable Type template over to WordPress. I decided to go with the latter option since I really liked the template :p In those days, WordPress templates were nothing but an index.php file which contained the styling for the blog’s default page. So, it was fairly easy to convert things over once I discovered the WordPress equivalents to the MT template tags that I was using. That I believe was using WordPress 1.2

Then came WordPress 1.5 and then 2.0 and while the template system in WordPress did change radically, they kept it backward compatible and so I was able to continue using the old template that I’d made for WordPress 1.2 back in the day with a few minor tweaks and changes. Of course, this meant that I wasn’t using the latest and greatest advances in WordPess templates but I was happy enough not to have to mess with the template again and so left things alone.

However, recently I had to do some digging into the WordPress template system when I wanted to design a custom template for Shout Out! In the process, I realized that there were a lot of nifty things in the new WordPress template system that I was missing out on because I continued to hang on to the legacy single file template system from the old days. So, once I got Shout Out! working, I decided to switch the SM template over to the new system – mostly because it’s easier to edit sections in the WP web interface than to search for say the sidebar code in the complete file.

Once I got the template split into header, sidebar, body and footer and everything as working fine, I came to know about WordPress Widgets – where you can have your full sidebar be a collection of widgets. This meant that I had to do some further tweaking to my template and sidebar code. So I went ahead and tried it but ultimately gave up on widgets since I like the ability to customize that the standard sidebar configuration provides. But still, the widgets are a neat idea. Just goes to show though that a blogger’s work is never done – there is always something to tweak or to customize :p

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Posted by Fahim at 7:34 am  |  No Comments

March 31, 2006

Blog, why do I do it?

Should I scream out "for absolutely no reason!"? :p Actually, sometimes I do wonder why I continue to blog. In the old days, before blogging was a buzz-word and you didn’t have all the blogging sites and blogging tools, I remember that I hand coded my blog in DreamWeaver. I was hosted on Tripod at that time and that first Paleolithic blog actually served a purpose. I was doing LiteStep development at that point and since I was the sole developer on the project at that point, I used my blog (it wasn’t called a blog then – I don’t know if the term had been coined by then :p) to keep LiteStep users informed as to what was going on with development.

Then I left the LiteStep project and started my own break-away project, DarkStep. And the blog continued so that people can see what was going on with DarkStep, download new builds and so on. I believe these development blogs continued from 1999 till about 2000 – though I can’t be totally certain of the time frames now 🙂 In March of 2001, I think I first became aware of the actual concept of blogging and wanted to give it a go since it was suddenly the rage :p I think I set up a Blogger account as the first step and used it for about a week. I became tired of the constant service outages and the fact that sometimes I’d post an entry but it would not get published due to date/time inconsistencies or some other junk like that.

I believe I wanted to try GreyMatter at this point but Tripod would not let me run perl scripts at that point (not sure if does now). So I looked around a little bit longer for a good blogging alternative but didn’t find anything which did everything that I wanted. So, I decided to write my own and so, Blog was born :p So what with my development work on Blog and other software I was developing and all the users who were interested to know what was going on, there was actually a need for a blog and I kept the blog going. In fact, by this time the original blog on Tripod had developed two other mirrors courtesy of a couple of kind people who liked my development work 🙂

Eventually, the blog became such a tightly integrated part of my schedule and I was blogging about so many things both about day-to-day life stuff and coding related stuff, that I decided to create another blog for the personal stuff and keep the main blog limited to coding related issues. So, I created Solipsistic Meanderings – the main blog was called The Developer’s Corner at that time. The first instance of SM ran on Movable Type but I was writing my entries in an alternate version of Blog that I called BlogMan and was publishing via XMLRPC. After a while, I switched to WordPress when MovableType went commercial and BlogMan became integrated into Blog itself. Then life got really busy and my freeware coding slowed down and even SM went into a sort of hibernation for a while.

When SM finally did come out of its hibernation, I realized that maintaining two blogs was just too much hassle and so I combined The Developer’s Corner and Solipsistic Meandering back into one blog :p Yes, it’s been quite a long journey and in many forms. There were needs for this blog at certain points because it served a purpose. Now, I simply write because I want to. I don’t really know how many people read it any longer. I know some of the old readers from the days gone by still hang out here but most of my traffic seems to come from Google hits :p I sometimes wonder if there is a need for a blog any longer but since I enjoy writing it, I keep going 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 7:26 am  |  1 Comment

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