From the category archives:

Blog Software

My move to VPS

by Bill Ferris on January 2, 2009 · 4 comments

in Blog Software

Last week I made the decision to move my blogs from shared hosting to a virtual private server (VPS). While I’ve had self hosted blogs for a number of years, I still find myself learning new things all the time, and this was especially true when moving VPS. In my case I was only moving WordPress blogs. I can’t speak to the steps for other types of sites.

Why move and why VPS?

I had considerable problems with uptime during the month of December. Even when my traffic wasn’t particularly high, my site was going down. When I’d submit a trouble ticket, my hosting company at the time would inform me that it was my sites bringing down the server. They suggested I move to a more robust and more expensive VPS solution.

Now I’m not going to bash my former host, they were generally good. But when things would break, they would continue to break for several days or weeks. Finding a true fix didn’t seem to be their strong suit. I wasn’t particularly satisfied with their responses to this situation so I also decided to find a new host.

I set about on a search for a new host, and did some Googling. But I found Twitter to be a valuable resource. After posting the question about hosting providers I received a number of responses that helped me narrow down my search to a couple providers.

I ultimately chose LiquidWeb for 3 primary reasons:

  1. They offered a managed VPS solution. I’m not a server admin and didn’t want the responsibility for maintaining my server. That would be a recipe for disaster.
  2. Their support came highly recommended. This was evidenced when I first went to their site and a chat dialogue opened where I could talk with a sales rep about my needs and they could help me in my decision.
  3. They are a Michigan company. I’m based in Michigan, and our state has had a rough go of it lately. Being able to support a local company was definitely a factor for me.

Preparing to Move – Get Your New Service

The timing was fortuitous. If I’m making structural changes to my sites, the week between Christmas and New Year’s is definitely preferable. I’m off work, and so our many other people. So I have time, and not many people are coming to my sites anyways. When stuff goes wrong, I can respond quickly and not as many people notice.

Step one is to sign up for your new service. You’ll need a destination for everything. Things here will probably vary based on the host you choose. In my case I specified a main domain at the time of sign up. Once my server was set up, I then needed to create my other domains on the server. This includes creating the domain, and typically creating accounts for email addresses, FTP access, and SSH access.

Ideally, you don’t have to make DNS changes at this point and you can access your new server via the IP address they provide.

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Installing WordPress 2.7

by Bill Ferris on December 14, 2008 · 4 comments

in Blog Software

One of the downsides of being a self hosted WordPress user is having to do manual upgrades when new versions of the software are released. It’s a multi-step process that involves backing up your database (okay, you should be doing this regardless), disabling plugins, uploading the new files, re-activating the plugins one by one, and then hoping everything works. Well if you hate this, then you just have to bite the bullet and install WordPress 2.7.

There are a number of new features in 2.7, including an overhauled admin panel and enhanced comment functionality (threading and pagination). But the the feature I’m most excited about is auto-upgrading. When that next new security release rolls out, no longer do you have to go through all the steps mentioned above. You can now upgrade from within your administration panel.

This same functionality allows you to browse and install plugins without having to download and FTP the files to your server.

So if you haven’t jumped to 2.7 yet, I encourage you to do so. It was one of the smoothest upgrades I’ve made (and I’ve been using WordPress since 1.5). I didn’t even bother to disable plugins first and I had no issues. Proceed with your own caution on this front and please check the compatibility list before doing so.

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WordPress hacked

by Bill Ferris on June 7, 2008 · 16 comments

in Blog Software

For those of you using WordPress to power your blogs you need to be on the look out for some hacking which appears to be widespread.

If you’re looking at your site you won’t notice it, but if you look at your stats you may notice a dip in referral traffic. The hack redirects visitors to your site coming from Yahoo and Google to a site called anyresults.net.

Not being a techie I can’t fully explain what is going on, but somehow the hacker gets access to upload a file and register it as a plug-in. Fixing it is a pain, and there may be other solutions, but here is what I did:

  1. Look in the wp_options table for the record with active-plugins. If you look at the list of active plugins you’ll see a number of familiar names as well as other characters. But there will also be an image file (jpeg, png) that has a name similar to an image somewhere on your site. That file isn’t actually an image, but a file with a bunch of garbage in it. Note the name and location of the file.
  2. Using your FTP client find the malicious file and delete it.
  3. Going back into MySQL check the users table. I noticed that in each instance there was another user created that doesn’t show up when you go in through your blogs control panel. Delete the record for that user.
  4. Reinstall WordPress. And don’t just do an overwrite, but delete all the files and reload them.
  5. Change your passwords.

This doesn’t seem to discriminate as to the version of WordPress you’re using. I was already at the latest, 2.5.1, and still got hit. I also doubt that these changes will persist so you may have to go through the exercise again – at least until WordPress offers a security update.

The wordpress support thread can be found here.

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What works for me: WordPress Plugins

by Bill Ferris on February 23, 2008 · 4 comments

in Blog Software

Table of contents for What works for me

  1. What works for me – Part 1: the basic tools
  2. What works for me: WordPress Plugins

My favorite thing about WordPress is the vast array of add-on functionality that is available. If you were wishing that WordPress had a feature or function, chances are someone has already developed it. The following are the plug-ins that I lean on heavily on my various sites:

Essentials

  • Akismet: I find this to be probably the single most important plugin I’ive ever installed. On my Tigers site alone it has saved me from having to moderate over 300,000 comments
  • WordPress Database Backup: Another essential tool. You can set it to backup your database at regular intervals and have the backups emailed to you, or stored on the server. With this plugin there is no excuse for losing more than a week’s worth of posts should something happen.
  • Google XML Sitemaps: Want Google to know about all of your pages? Want Google to know how often you are updating those pages? Just install this plugin and it will generate a sitemap that is recognizable by Google and will even ping Google to let them know when you’ve made an update.
  • WP-ContactForm: Readers have to be able to get in touch with you right? There are several Contact Form plugins available. Just make sure you use one of them.

Accessibility

  • WordPress Mobile Edition: Have you looked at your site on a mobile device? Did you let the whole thing load or did you get discouraged? This plug-in adapts your existing site and puts it into a mobile browser friendly theme. It’s so easy I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it.
  • Full Text Feed: If you’re not a full feed kinda blogger this probably doesn’t apply. In later editions of WordPress the feed truncates if you use the more tag. This will prevent that from happening delivering the full post in the feed.
  • Chunk Urls: Don’t you hate it when someone leaves a link as a comment, but it is several hundred characters long and breaks your theme? This plug-in will cut those links down to size keeping your site pretty.
  • Share This Deportes: Make it easy for others to evangelize those great posts. Share This was originally developed by Alex King and provided icons for many popular bookmarking/social sites as well as the ability to email posts. The deportes version is tailored to sports blogs with links to sites like BallHype and Yardbarker.
  • Smart Archives: Many blogs are shying away from displaying date based archives. However I think that for sports blogs they are still worthwhile because many readers may want to search for information by season. But if you’ve been blogging for a while this can get unwieldy. This plugin neatly arranges those archives into a more manageable format. Here it is in action.

Stickiness

  • Get Recent Comments: Make it easy for your regular readers to see when new comments have been left, so they know where to leave comments of their own.
  • Articles: I use this plugin to create a “Best of” page. Just mark those popular articles with a custom tag, and they’ll display on a page of your choosing.
  • Related Posts: Keep people on your site longer by pointing them to other articles they may care about.

This wasn’t an exhaustive list of all the plugins that I use, just the ones I consider most important. One that wasn’t mentioned in the list was In Series which can link a series of posts together. It’s what is driving this series in fact. Are there plugins that you use or recommend?

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Table of contents for What works for me

  1. What works for me – Part 1: the basic tools
  2. What works for me: WordPress Plugins

This is the first post in a series that will look at various elements of blogging, and what I’ve found to work for me. This is hardly a comprehensive list about blogging, or a best of the best list. It’s simply stuff that I’ve tried, that I’ve had success with. It may not work for everyone, and there may (and in many cases are) probably better options or solutions. But hopefully this will prime some discussion and I look forward to feedback and letting others know what works for you.

The Blogging Platform

WordPress is my tool of choice. I started on Blogger and it served me well for a very long time. But 2 years ago I got to the point where I needed functionality that just wasn’t available in Blogger. Blogger has since added quite a bit of that functionality, like categories for example. But because of the hundreds of plug-ins available with WordPress, I don’t think Blogger can ever really catch-up at this point.

Now with WordPress there are two options, a hosted version called WordPress.com and a version you host yourself. There are advantages to the hosted version. The big 2 as I see it are:

  1. It’s free. It costs nothing. No hosting costs are required. No domain needs to be registered. It’s completely free and not a bad route to go if you’re unsure of how committed you are to this blogging thing.
  2. You don’t have to know anything about programming, or maintaining a web site. It’s all taken care of for you. The software is updated automatically as new versions come out. It’s all handled for you which definitely has an appeal in terms of time, and expertise.

Still, I use the .org version. I want control over everything, including access to all the great plug-ins that exist. I also want control over back-ups and control over my content into perpetuity.

Now mind you, I’m not a web expert. I have some programming experience, but none of it is with PHP – the language that WordPress is coded in. And even with that limited knowledge I’m able to get by.

As for the cost, that is really pretty minimal because there is lots of cheap hosting out there.

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Leaving Blogger – a week later

by Bill Ferris on January 2, 2006 · 0 comments

in Blog Software,Case Studies

Now that I’ve been off of Blogger for a week, I of course found things that broke in the transition.

The biggest issue was probably that the transition seemed to break the “tables” I made using pre tags.  It didn’t seem to handle the the line breaks with in the tags well – or at all.  The result is that the the line breaks aren’t observed and it overflows the area.  Depending on the browser, this can either screw up the template, or just look really bad.

Fixing it also proves difficult using the WYSIWYG editor which tries to help too much.  I’ve found it best to turn off the editor when correcting these problems.  This can be done from the Users menu with a check box at the bottom.

The tough thing is finding all the effected posts.  If you’re comfortable with MySQL you could query the database to find all posts with the PRE tag.  It still requires a manual fix, but at least you know which posts to target.

I’ve also worked my way back to add categories.  Any posts I’ve been fixing I’ve been adding categories to.  Also, I’ve looked forward those popular posts (like interviews) and made sure that those were categorized as well.  Now I won’t categorize all 1000 posts, but I did do about 100 of them.

As for performance (visits, page views, revenue), it was tough to judge the impact because of strange traffic levels due to the holidays.  It’s something I’ll probably address in a month or so.

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WordPress 2.0 Upgrade

by Bill Ferris on December 27, 2005 · 0 comments

in Blog Software

I successfully upgraded this site to WordPress 2.0 last night.  It took me about 15 minutes, but most of that time was for doing back-ups.  Following the instructions in the Readme that accompanied the download was a breeze.  I don’t have many plug-ins installed, and all had been verified to work with 2.0.  I simply deleted everything in the root (except for .htaccess), wp-admin, and wp-includes, and uploaded the new files.  After running wp-admin/upgrade.php everything was set.

I was going to post the things that I noticed immediately, but someone else already reached the same conclusions.

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Leaving Blogger – How

by Bill Ferris on December 26, 2005 · 0 comments

in Blog Software,Blogging Tools,Case Studies

Earlier I posted about my reasons for moving from Blogger to WordPress. Now I’ll discuss some of the steps I took to make the transition. I planned to go into considerable detail, but seeing as how WordPress 2.0 offers additional support for importing from various platforms, I’ll keep it brief.
Wordpress ships with a script that will import from Blogger. What the script didn’t do was insure that permalinks would remain the same. It also didn’t import comments. Fortunately, people way more talented than myself took the initiative to fix both the former and the latter.

The first step I took was to setup a subdomain to install WordPress to. I didn’t want to be working in the same directory as my live site. If you’re using Blogspot to host your blog, you wouldn’t need this step. You would however need to secure web hosting in the first place. After setting up the subdomain, and installing WordPress it was time to configure Blogger. This involved changing the template (backing up the old one first of course), and changing publishing and date formatting options. Once the options were configured correctly, I published the blog to my new subdomain (test.detroittigersweblog.com). Immediately after the publish was complete I restored Blogger to my original settings. This isn’t completely necessary, it was just my own paranoia about forgetting what my previous settings were.

Fortunately, it appears that in 2.0 the import script handles the Blogger configuration for you. I haven’t tried it yet, but it appears that you simply provide WordPress with your Blogger login information and it does the rest.

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Leaving Blogger

by Bill Ferris on December 25, 2005 · 0 comments

in Blog Software,Blogging Tools,Case Studies

I started blogging with Blogger almost 5 years ago. Sure, Blogger frustrated me at times but I had developed a certain loyalty. Back in the day, it was one of the most accessible, easy to use, and free offerings available. However, the competition has caught up with Blogger and in many cases surpassed it. When I launched this blog, I chose to try WordPress, and I couldn’t be happier. While there was a slight learning curve for working with the templates, the features, functionality, and ease of installation overwhelmed me. Finally, this week I transferred 4.5 years of my Tiger blog from Blogger to WordPress.

I know many sports bloggers started off using Blogger. Many are still using it. Some have probably considered switching platforms, while for others it may have never crossed their minds. I’m going to do a two part post about my migration from Blogger to WordPress. The first part (this one) will focus on my reasons for switching. Many of the reasons aren’t specific to WordPress, and many of the same principles apply to a variety of blogging software. WordPress just happens to be the one I picked. Part two will cover the steps I took to do it, and will be more specific to WordPress.

Republishing Hell
One of the biggest fundamental differences between Blogger and many other solutions is static versus dynamic pages. Blogger uses static pages. To achieve this they republish pages whenever you post or change your template. Many other services use dynamic pages, where they typically use a programming language (like PHP) to query a database (typically MySQL) to generate the page when it is requested.

In my case I had nearly 1000 pages of content. Every tweak to the template, like changing links in the sidebar or changing Chitika keywords, resulted in the republishing of every one of those pages. For me this meant making all changes off hours. If I tried to republish while the east coast was awake, it would frequently timeout in the process. With dynamicaly created WordPress pages, all I do is save changes to the template. There is no republishing because the next person to request a page will see the changes.

I don’t know if this was the biggest reason for me switching, but it was definitely the one that pushed me over.
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About WordPress 2.0

by Bill Ferris on December 25, 2005 · 1 comment

in Blog Software

If you’re a WordPress user, you’ve probably heard that WordPress 2.0 is being released tomorrow (December 26th).  Problogger has a list of  10 Things You Should Know about WordPress 2.0.  The items that jumped out at me were

  • Importing from Other Blogging Platforms:  This is of particular interest to me considering I just converted my Tiger site (more on this in the coming days) to WordPress from Blogger.
  • Built In Caching:  Essentially, once somebody has requested a page, a cache of the page is stored on the server.  This will make subsequent requests for the page load faster.
  • Spam Handling:  The new version will come with Akismet spam filtering installed.

This site is powered by WordPress, and I plan to upgrade this week.  I’ll be sure to let you know how it went.

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