Tag Archives: WordPress

Theme Change: Twenty-Twelve

After several years of using Inanis’s I7 theme (Styled after Windows 7), I decided to go for a cleaner, more modern look – stepping away from the slower and chaotic I7 to WordPress’s own Twenty-Twelve. I’m really enjoying how it makes the content stand out more, rather than get lost in the distraction the theme itself creates. It also loads faster and by being responsive, looks a lot better on all of my devices. I’m sure that over the next year, I am going to end up creating a child theme based off of it as I find small things I would like to customize but for now, I’m exceptionally happy with how it’s working and I’m absolutely loving the clean, minimalistic view!

Quick Maintenance Update

I recently became aware of several problems with the website’s contact form system leading it to purge all incoming messages (or leave them hanging without pulling them in). I’ve made several changes today which should resolve that series of problems. If you’ve tried to send me an email recently and noticed that it didn’t go through, I apologize. It should be working at this point.

One Year of Using Dropbox

In January 2010, I switched to a three computer system: my desktop (custom built) which remained at my desk at home, my laptop (an older HP Compaq Presario V2000 AMD model) which I used around the house when I wasn’t at my desk, and my new netbook (an MSI Wind U110 ECO) which was to go with me everywhere. With such distributed computing, I needed some way of keeping files in sync across computers and easily accessible to me wherever I was. I had done some research on this several years before as I wanted an easy way to access my files from the internet in case I forgot something important and didn’t have the latest copy on a flash drive. At that time, I had looked into Office Live Workspace Beta which was almost exactly what I wanted, except for the fact that it only allowed me to access Microsoft Office files. This time, my requirements were somewhat more complicated: I needed the files to synchronize across all of my computers, I needed access to the files from anywhere with an internet connection, I needed to store whatever files I wanted to there, I needed security, and I needed reliability. Additionally, I wanted a free service, if at all possible, with as much free space as I needed. I did not have a hard number for the amount of space I needed to synchronize. After looking over reviews and articles in regards to cloud storage it became apparent to me that Dropbox was the only option.

Dropbox uses Amazon’s S3 for storage. Amazon’s S3 service states 99.999999999% or 99.99% reliability on its storage backend (depending on whether reduced redundancy or normal redundancy storage is purchased). With Dropbox using Amazon’s S3, data reliability was not a concern to me. Dropbox states that all files are transmitted to their servers in an encrypted form and remain that way till they are back on one of the owner’s computers. They also say that additional layers of security can be achieved by using Truecrypt or another volume encryption software to hold all the data within secure file volumes. For my purposes the SSL transfer between my computers and Dropbox is good enough security for me. My netbook (which is my only computer that leaves the house) is fully encrypted with Windows 7 Bitlocker and so I believe my data is reasonably secure.

Dropbox is primarily a file synchronizing service and synchronization of files is done exceptionally well. I am very grateful that it keeps all conflicted files, allowing me to figure out which file got saved at the wrong time (This is critical when used with Microsoft Outlook). It syncs quickly, changing only the changed bytes of the files rather than synchronizing the whole file again. I’ll explain why this useful to me a little later on as I explain several of my specific Dropbox uses. Dropbox also has a full web interface with access to upload and download any files from any device with an internet browser. For me this is a perfect “last resort,” in case I forget my netbook, its battery gets drained or something worse happens to it. By keeping copies of all files within the cloud, Dropbox doesn’t have to wait for me to have all of my computers on to sync the files, as each one turns on and off, it syncs with the storage on the web and the latest versions of my files are always there. This makes the ease of access that much better, I just have to make sure that Dropbox has finished syncing before shutting down my computers or putting them to sleep.

Dropbox offers a full 2 gigabytes (2 GB) of storage space for free with any sign up. They also offer 250 megabytes (250 MB) of additional space for every user that you refer to their service. The additional space gained from referrals is doubled for those who have .edu email addresses. Recently, they also offered a scavenger-hunt promotion called Dropquest where they gave users another full gigabyte (1 GB). They also give 128 megabytes (128 MB) each for connecting your Dropbox account to Facebook and Twitter and posting about it there. See this page for more details. Currently I have 9.5 gigabytes of free Dropbox storage space of which I am using 39.6%.

It is clear that I am very happy with the service that Dropbox provides. It fits my file synchronization needs perfectly. In the last year, I can remember two instances when Dropbox was offline and both were rather short periods (several hours maximum) of time that therefore didn’t affect me very much. I have been able to depend on Dropbox to have my files where I need them, wherever I need them and so far it hasn’t failed me.

I use Dropbox to synchronize many different types of files for an equally diverse number of purposes. First I have the usual smattering of Microsoft Office documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. For my school work, I have hundreds of these documents, all sorted nicely into a folder hierarchy under my main Dropbox folder. I also have a large quantity of Adobe PDF files. These are scanned notes from before I started using my smartpen and my netbook all the time for all notes. Most of these PDF files are organized and in the same hierarchy, however due to their sheer volume, many of them have not been sorted, split up and filed yet. Those files also live in a “to be sorted” folder within my Dropbox folder so that when I have a few moments of time, I can quickly sort another couple of files. I am a big user of Microsoft OneNote. I use it exclusively for most of my classes and I use it for other notes as well. I have nearly 10 actively used OneNote notebooks and all of them live within my Dropbox folder hierarchy. What’s exceptionally nice about using OneNote for this is that it automatically saves every few seconds while I am working. This means that if for any reason something were to go wrong with my computer while I was working in class, I would lose no more than one minute’s notes as they are constantly being synched to Dropbox.

One of the more complicated files to synchronize via Dropbox is my Outlook.pst file. My email, contacts, and calendar are all managed by Google Apps for My Domain and while I love Google Apps, there are places where I go that there is limited Wi-Fi and the offline versions of Google Apps just don’t cut it for me. I use Google’s synchronization tools to keep my calendar in sync with Microsoft Outlook. Email works natively over the imap protocol. Contacts are synched as well using a tool called GoContactSync. All three of these are synched wirelessly from my Google Apps account to my Windows Mobile 6.5 running Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1 as well as my Barnes & Noble NookColor. The one thing missing here is tasks. I’ve tried using Google’s calendar based task system but it was not robust enough for me. One thing that I absolutely require for tasks is categories. Google Calendar Tasks have no support for categories, nor is there a free way to sync them with Outlook and Windows Mobile. To keep tasks in sync between my various computers, the only solution that worked simply for me was simply putting the whole Outlook.pst file in Dropbox and letting it sync it. The first time it took a little longer (because of how large my PST file is) and Outlook had to be manually told where I moved it. However, I have had zero problems with this approach as long as I close Outlook and wait for it to fully sync out before switching computers. Failing to do so results in lots of duplicate copies of Outlook.pst because every little change I make in Outlook causes it to write to the PST file. With Dropbox, however, this is not very bad as a quick look at the tray icon tells me exactly what files in the Dropbox folder are still being accessed. I should add that I’m not syncing my larger than 2 gigabytes (2+ GB) email archive PST files. I am simply syncing the Outlook.pst file. Because I use imap, I let each computer keep its own Outlook email archive in sync on its own. The problem with synchronizing the Outlook.pst file is that it doesn’t always gracefully close. I normally close Microsoft Outlook, wait for Dropbox to sync and then put my computer to sleep. I then switch computers, keep working in Outlook and then repeat those steps when I’m switching computers again. Sometimes however, as soon as Windows resumes from sleep, a background process attempts to access Outlook.pst which is out of date as the latest version hasn’t been downloaded by Dropbox yet. This creates a conflicted Outlook.pst file as Dropbox downloads the real one and renames the conflict with a timestamp. What’s nice is that on the off chance that the synced copy is the wrong one; I can quickly delete it and rename the conflict to take its place.

I use a Livescribe Echo Smartpen which uses the proprietary application called Livescribe Desktop to synchronize data with a PC. The data is kept in a proprietary format in a folder tree in the Application Data (or AppData for Windows Vista & Windows 7 users) folder. Once I finish using a physical notebook or notepad with my Smartpen, I archive the data off of the pen to the desktop application and no longer carry around the full notebook with me. That means that if I need to access the data, I need to have an updated copy of my notes from Livescribe Desktop with me at all times. Dropbox doesn’t natively support syncing files outside of its folder. To get it to synchronize data from Livescribe Desktop, I had to literally move all of my Livescribe data files to the Dropbox folder and then use a form of trickery called symlinks to make Windows (and through it) Livescribe Desktop believe that the data was still there. I’ve outlined the whole process in this post. My apologies if that post appears very convoluted as there is a lot of text without pictures. Please note that I do plan to rectify that and add pictures to the tutorial with the next update of it. I also use symlinks to store my Mindjet MindManager maps folder in my Dropbox and still have MindManager’s open map dialog default to the correct folder. I have not outlined how to do so, however, if there is sufficient interest, I will write up a tutorial post for it.

This website is powered by WordPress as the backend platform on top of which plugins and themes have been layered. I like to keep backups of this website just in case something happened to the original live website. I have spent a lot of time developing content and various unique solutions and if they were to be lost, I would (naturally) be very, very upset. I use a plugin called wp Time Machine to make those backups. I have it configured to automatically generate the backup, and then push it to me via Dropbox whenever I publish a new post. Because it stores backups in Dropbox, I get the same inherent protection for my website backups as I do for any other file within my Dropbox.

All in all, Dropbox is one the best tools I began using in 2010. In the 15 months that I have been using it daily, I have had very few disconnects from their servers along with several duplicate files being created. As I said earlier, their reliability is excellent and a couple of small server disconnects isn’t going to change that. Quite honestly, the service that Dropbox provides is indispensable to me. After a year of using it, I can definitely say that I made the right choice when I chose Dropbox to provide cloud synchronization services for my files! And as I continue to use my three computer system, I will use Dropbox to synchronize my files between them!

What I Like (And Dislike) About WordPress 3.0

A couple of weeks ago WordPress (the software that powers this site), popped up a notification that version 3.0 Thelonius was ready to download and install. I held off on the upgrade for a while because of  many problems I have had upgrading from version to version with WordPress. I have to admit though I was very pleasantly surprised with the ease of the installation. I simply hit upgrade, entered my ftp information and waited for it to think. A little less than a minute later, I was running WordPress 3.0. It was absolutely amazing, there were no problems, it just worked. This was a great change from version upgrades before, many times they have broken compatibility with lots of plugins (WordPress 2.8 for example) and broken the theme. This time, all of my plugins worked, the theme worked and there was absolutely nothing that needed changing at all. What I found incredible is that they were able to combine WordPress Multiple User directly into WordPress 3.0. On my one internal testing site (on localhost), I was able to update directly from WPMU to WP 3.0 also with no problems.

WordPress 3.0 ships with a new theme called TwentyTen. Kubrick (which has been the default theme for a while) has finally been replaced with something that is fully compliant with Web 2.0 standards and looks amazing. The only reason that I’m not using it myself is because while it is an amazing theme, it isn’t “techie” enough for my liking. It’s still a great theme, but I probably won’t be using it, at least not for this site.

However, as amazing as WordPress 3.0 is; it still (like everything) has it shortcomings. Namely compatibility with BuddyPress While the basic install of BuddyPress is still as easy as ever, the combination with bbPress is broken again. Now attempting to enable the bbPress portion of BuddyPress results in a bb-config.php being created, no database tables being created, and an overall total mess. Basically the forums function is completely broken and this makes a large portion of BuddyPress and by extension WordPress useless. This is a rather large bug and whether it is with WordPress 3.0, BuddyPress or with the version of bbPress included in the BuddyPress install, it needs to be found and fixed quickly.

Automattic is rather good at putting out bugfixes and I’m sure that once they know about it, they and the full team of Open Source Developers behind WordPress, BuddyPress, and bbPress will patch this bug and everything will be working again. It will just take a little bit (more) time!

Why I Switched Back to Intense Debate for Comment Management

Previously, I wrote Why Intense Debate Still Isn’t Ready for WordPress Use! Since then, my view on Intense Debate has changed. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always been a big fan of Automattic’s attempts to combine user accounts between various services allowing us as blog holders to simplify the number of logins we need to remember. Nearly two months back, Intense Debate attempted to add themselves to the Autommatic “account combined” list.

It had mixed success because while it allowed those of us with WordPress.com accounts to comment through Intense Debate, we still had two profiles. There was an Intense Debate profile and a WordPress.com profile. This created confusion because we now had two accounts instead of just the one that we were supposed to. The intentions were to fix this soon, but it still hasn’t happened. Here’s why it affected me:

I decided to try out Intense Debate myself to see if it would fit the needs of this site. I ended up creating a new Intense Debate account, not realizing that I could just sign on with my WordPress.com login and password. I linked this site to and my comments synced perfectly with Intense Debate. Then of course, I read this post and decided that I wanted my Intense Debate profile to be the same as my WordPress.com one. Of course, I deleted my Intense Debate account and then reset the plugin. I tried to connect it to my “new” account but of course, it wouldn’t let me do that. It seems that you need to disconnect your WordPress blog from Intense Debate before deleting or switching accounts. Now I’m stuck, without Intense Debate. My hope is, that when the merger goes through properly, they will realize that my orphaned blog belongs to my WordPress.com account and attach the two together. That would save a lot of hassle for all of us who don’t read directions properly before beginning.

Since then, Intense Debate support have looked into my accounts and have combined the two of them under my wordpress.com account and I no longer have two accounts, :) They believe that all other accounts should be combined by the end of the year, which with the volume of accounts they have is understandable.

So, here I am: running Intense Debate again except this time with only 1 account!

Why Intense Debate Still Isn’t Ready For WordPress Use!

Intense Debate is definitely one of the best debate/comment systems out there. There’s no question of that here! Automattic has done a brilliant job with Intense Debate but it still needs a lot of work. I love the fact that one Intense Debate account allows you to login to many different sites to post comments because of their diverse and widespread plugins for many different platforms. It certainly is easier to users and to webmasters because they don’t have to worry about pruning for spam and checking on their spam plugins. Sure, a webmaster still needs to look into those but with Intense Debate, the pruning is all handled by them and not by you. The time needed to clean up the spam is greatly reduced.

I for one was very excited when Intense Debate announced WordPress.com Sign In. I don’t know if you have noticed but Automattic has slowly been implementing that across all of their platforms. However, across their other platforms, they have also included account mergers, merging accounts between services with the WordPress.com account with identical email addresses. That is where they really shine. I’ve had a WordPress.com account for a while, because I needed the API Key for Akismet. I’ve also had a Gravatar because I love not having to set my avatar up on every site I start up. Late last year, they merged the databases of Gravatar with WordPress.com and my two accounts became connected. There was no longer a disconnect.

However, the Intense Debate implementation failed in this context. Account Mergers are not possible at this time. The Intense Debate Team said:

If you already have both IntenseDebate and WordPress.com accounts, don’t worry – we will be merging your accounts in the next phase of our integration, so keep commenting!

That’s good, it means that integration is coming but it’s still not quite ready for mainstream use. Let me give you my own story.

I decided to try out Intense Debate myself to see if it would fit the needs of this site. I ended up creating a new Intense Debate account, not realizing that I could just sign on with my WordPress.com login and password. I linked this site to and my comments synced perfectly with Intense Debate. Then of course, I read this post and decided that I wanted my Intense Debate profile to be the same as my WordPress.com one. Of course, I deleted my Intense Debate account and then reset the plugin. I tried to connect it to my “new” account but of course, it wouldn’t let me do that. It seems that you need to disconnect your WordPress blog from Intense Debate before deleting or switching accounts. Now I’m stuck, without Intense Debate. My hope is, that when the merger goes through properly, they will realize that my orphaned blog belongs to my WordPress.com account and attach the two together. That would save a lot of hassle for all of us who don’t read directions properly before beginning.

Therefore Intense Debate isn’t quite ready for WordPress use. It’s very close and it’s getting closer, but there is still a short ways to go. Once they manage to complete the merger, I for one will be quite pleased with them. I’m just hoping the “next phase of [their] integration” happens soon!

Switching from WordPress MU to WordPress

For almost a year now, I ran a WordPress MU site with BuddyPress, and bbPress, all running the latest bleeding-edge SVN releases. Unfortunately, I soon learned that this is not an easy task at all. Bleeding-edge releases, while fun and full of new features are very disaster prone. In the process of fixing things,  other things break and then, it’s just not a happy application. The amount of time I spent fixing things, searching how to fix things, and scratching my head because I just couldn’t fix things was just too much. Obviously, running bleeding-edge software on a production site isn’t the best of ideas.

I was unable to keep up with the updates and eventually the sites just died. Some programs on the Virtual Private Server insisted on filling up the virtual hard drive with lots and lots of statistical data. Unfortunately, statistical data on several dead websites is hardly useful at all. Once the virtual drive was full the server basically destroyed itself. Isn’t that just lots of fun?

After several months and several domain expiries, I decided it would make sense to get rid of a testing ground and only keep production sites. I reasoned that if a testing ground was needed, it would be easy enough to build on my local virtualbox setup of Ubuntu 8.04 LTS Server Edition. I reloaded the VPS with CentOS 5 and happily was greeted with an empty hard drive again. Last time, my VPS was running Kloxo from LXLabs. Unfortunately, after the great HyperVM and Kloxo vulnerabilities of 2009, I was very wary with installing Kloxo again. It also had the “great” statistical tendencies.

I decided to install Webmin and it’s module virtualmin for administration because I have used it before and it is a truly much better alternative to Kloxo. Virtualmin, though has a paid version, however, in my experience, the GPL one works just fine. Admittedly, I do know my way around Linux and could easily run all of these commands through an SSH terminal but it’s much easier to just use a web-based control panel.

The install was quick and painless, just a simple bash script that needed execution and everything was working fine. I logged in to Virtualmin, created a new account for this domain, after modifying features per domain and set up was complete. I simply had to install WordPress and then upload modified sections of my database from the WordPress MU install. From there, it was simply configuring permissions, installing plugins, setting themes, and embedding functions.

In an afternoon’s work, I managed to backup all of my data from WordPress MU, BuddyPress, and bbPress, reload my Virtual Private Server, install a new control panel, set up new DNS with XNAME, and restore my backups to WordPress (Single User). Hopefully here, problems will be virtually non-existent and with some luck, everything should work for good this time.