Don’t over-think WordPress…

A day or two ago, I found a very inspirational clip on youtube that I wanted to include in a post.  Since I hadn’t done this before, I read about it in the WordPress Codex, which said that when you’re watching a youtube video, just copy and paste the url onto a separate line in the WordPress post editor window and WordPress will take the url and do whatever is needed to embed it in your post.  I thought that sounded just too easy to actually work.  Instead, I hunted around the youtube page looking for a link that would create the code to embed the video.  When that didn’t work, I tried enclosing it with an embed shortcode.  When that didn’t work either, I went back and tried exactly what the Codex said to do and it worked perfectly.  Just goes to show that reading (and following) the instructions gets you a lot further than just trying stuff on your own.

Using media with WordPress has been rather clumsy historically and it’s reassuring to see this weakness being addressed.

It’s also good to be reminded that the Codex is a useful resource when you need help with WordPress.  I’ve amassed a collection of bookmarks to topics within the Codex; I just need to remember to use those bookmarks to check the Codex first and trust that it will point me in the right direction.

My New Years resolution didn’t last long

2 days as a matter of fact.  What remains to be seen is whether this is a hiccup or the beginning of the end.  At least this time I didn’t go off the air for weeks.  This happening does point to a couple of reasons that resolutions often (usually?) fail.  First off, resolutions are usually made about things that are especially troublesome for us.  Not only because they’re important but because we’ve had trouble just following through on it without having to make a big deal out of it.  That trouble is why we resorted to making a resolution for it.  But if we’ve had trouble with a goal before making a resolution about it, it’s possible that it’s an impossible goal for us.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that many resolutions fail; we pick goals we have trouble achieving.   If we’re smart, we’ll realize when we’re making the resolution that we’ve already had trouble with it so we should frame the resolution in a way that acknowledges the difficulties either by not being so ambitious or including support mechanisms that haven’t been used before.

It’s also important to not abandon the resolution if we run into difficulty.  Treat each setback as a learning opportunity where we can see what works and what doesn’t work.  Then make adjustments to reduce the likeliness of setbacks in the future.

Creating a successful situation is not just a matter of working hard and hoping for the best.  We need  to frame the goal in an achievable way and we have to include support mechanisms that will increase the chances of success.

This learning opportunity showed that having an easily identifiable schedule helps me to recognize when there’s a problem and to get back to posting.  It also points to  a problem or problems trying to post every weekday.  I either need to slow the posting schedule down or find ways to write articles faster.  We’ll see what works…

I don’t want hackers, Google or the government watching what I do online

My topic of interest recently has been using https to encrypt my internet connections to improve my security and privacy.  I’m at the point in the process where I’m still accumulating questions faster than finding any answers…

There are several different aspects of https that I’m interested in.  The most important aspect is protecting my emails from mtrad.com & gmail.com.  Getting ssl working for mtrad.com probably has the most unknown & challenging issues involved.  I need to get an ssl certificate, which I’ve never had to do before.  Setting up ssl for mtrad.com also means that I’ve got to figure out ssl for my other domains and websites as well as how a new ssl certificate will affect cpanel and whm on my server. An additional wrinkle is that I need to do this through Servint, my hosting provider so that they will support ssl on my server in the future.  I’m not sure how much I expect ServInt to do vesus taking care of stuff myself.  But I’d like to delegate as much as possible to Servint.  😉

I’m hoping that protecting my gmail  is just a matter of selecting “Always use https” in my settings.  But I need to test it and consider what else I need to do to assure security.

For my website, I need to install a ssl certificate. implement https service and configure WordPress to use https for all admin pages. Then I need to research what’s needed to support https everywhere.  That includes checking out caching plugins  to see if one performance plugin is a better fit than others and learn how I need to configure it to work properly with https everywhere.

Last but not least, I need to figure out how to use https everywhere on my computers, especially my laptop.  I want to encrypt my net connections so when I’m on a public network, like at Starbucks, hackers can’t listen in on me.  I also want to encrypt my sessions on facebook and tumblr to reduce the chances that hackers can get enough info to hack my account.

If you have any resources, ideas, suggestions or questions, please include them in the comments for this post.  I look forward to learning all about https, ssl certificates and https everywhere…

 

My Secret Advantage inTechnology

Before the Internet spoiled us all with the promise of limitless information available at our fingertips, I had a secret advantage over other techies that allowed me to exhibit expertise in a wide range of technical subjects…  I had a huge library of technical books… and I am a good reader.  So whenever I was presented with a  question about virtually anything, I could say “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you with the answer”.  And if I didn’t know the answer off-hand, I could look it up in one of the books in my library.  And if the answer wasn’t in any of the books in my library, I could zip down to the bookstore and find a book that had the answer.

The stroke has wiped out my technical library and I have become dependent on websites for learning about things I don’t know yet.   The problem is that websites generally focus on sharing what someone knows, rather than fully covering a topic.  As a result, the coverage of topics on websites is much more uneven and spotty than in books.

So how does someone create their own “secret advantage” ?  It’s very simple actually – just invest in a library of books that cover the subjects you’re interested in.  But the question is how to do it without breaking the bank.  In building my technical library, I became skilled at finding books that covered the areas of topics that I was interested in. I paid attention to which publishers published useful books and which publishers didn’t.  I learned how to identify how a book covers a topic – how much of the topic the book covers and how detailed.  Also how advanced (or not) the discussion was which usually identified how much understanding of the topic the reader was expected to already have under their belt.  While I am willing to invest in building a library, I don’t want to waste time and money (and space) on books that aren’t useful.

The idea is to find the best (most useful) book on a subject.  Beyond knowing publishers and writers, you have to sit down and read the book to see how well it covers the subject. Since it’s impractical to sit in a bookstore and read a whole book, I’ve developed a method of evaluating a book based on seeing how well it answers a question that I already have.  This is a good place to start because if a book answers one of my questions, it’s likely to also answer others.  I can also evaluate how accurate their answer is and how well they write.  Well, at least how well I understand what they write.

It would be really, really helpful if the on-line book retailers had a way to do this kind of evaluation over the net.

I need to explore the web for resources that would help me evaluate books.  The book sample features on amazon and barnesandnoble.com didn’t include enough of the books I looked at to answer my questions, which was disappointing.

If you know of an on-line resource that could help find and/or evaluate technical books, please share it with all of us in a comment to this article.

Until there is a way to find and evaluate technical books on-line, I’ll keep going to local bookstores where I can get books in my hands to evaluate how well they match my needs so that once again my technical library is a (not so) secret advantage for me.

How I’m Going To Grow My Blog To 1,000 Visitors Per Week (Part 1)

This is the first of several articles describing how I intend to grow my blog to one thousand visitors per week.  Today, I’m focusing on preparations that I need to do before jumping in and doing stuff to grow the blog.

What’s clear to me from the visible disruptions that I’ve had already with the blog is that I need to get my own act together.  Whether it’s publishing a blog or any other on-going activity, if I don’t have things together, I will have difficulty giving the time and attention to it necessary for success.

So, the first thing I have to do is get my act together, at least enough to be productive most days and not have many melt-downs that just overwhelm me to the extent that I lose a whole day or more.

Next, I have to adjust my writing process (and my expectations) to fit my posting schedule.  Part of that is finally treating the blog as a business and not a hobby.  I need to focus on writing better and writing faster and focusing on the writing enough to get it done in a timely manner so that it doesn’t overflow and disrupt the rest of my life.

Before jumping in and working on growing the blog, I need to come up with a plan of what, how and when I’m going to do what and how I’m going to  evaluate the results.

The first part of my plan is to get my personal act together, get my article writing nailed and outline the rest of the general plan.  The next part of this series will discuss the general plan and the specifics of getting my personal act together and the writing process nailed.

Knowing How Long It Will Take is the Mark of a Professional

When the mechanic or plumber can tell you how long it will take to fix your problem, you are instantly more confident that they will do a good job.  If they know how long it will take, then they must already be familiar with what needs to be done…

As a software engineering professional for 30+ years, I have listened to countless programmers trying to convince others that there’s no way to estimate how long it will take to write a program.  The only thing they convince me of is their lack of competence.  When somebody tries to tell me that there’s no way to know long it will take to do something, that’s the surest sign that they don’t know what they’re doing and I need to get as far away from them as quickly as possible.

I guess it takes a certain amount of hubris to say this after screwing up the schedule of my blog posting so emphatically recently.  All I can say is that it’s obvious that I’m not a professional blogger (yet.)  And it becomes a case study in why it’s a necessary skill for a professional to be able to estimate how long it will take to do something.  For bloggers, it’s important to set a posting schedule for their blog and then meet that schedule.  Even if you don’t blow it as spectacularly as I have recently, being rushed will lead to crappier writing and just generally worse articles.

Returning to our blog writing process…

  1. We’ll start by making a single page list of the steps with plenty of room to add blogger hours and elapsed time next to each step.
  2. Before starting our estimating, we need to first verify we haven’t left out any steps.
  3. Now let’s make a best guess estimate at how long it will take to complete each step.  It doesn’t have to be very accurate as we will test and refine our estimates as we go along.  We just need a starting point.  (Of course, the more accurate our best guess estimates are, the quicker we’ll finish our testing and refinement. 😉 )
  4. For each step, try to think of any information that will help you refine or qualify your estimate.  For example, non-technical articles don’t need much, if any, research, so we can eliminate the time needed for research for non-technical articles.  I also know that “Person of Interest” articles take longer to outline than “Site of Interest” articles.  More generically, I believe that writing a draft of an article takes about 3 hours.  Reviewing a draft takes an hour, so if I need one draft to write an article, it’s 4 hours.  Two drafts will take 8 hours and so on, if even more are needed.
  5. Try to write a post within the best guess estimates and adjust the estimates as needed.  Repeat until the estimates match the actual time it takes you to write a post.

Once you have an accurate estimate of how long it takes to write posts, file it with your style and topic guides so you can refer to it when planning posts.  The time you invest now in understanding how long it takes to write a post will come back to you many times over during your blogging career.