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Brock Rogers

Relax, it's only ones and zeros.

Technology


My Tweets in the Library of Congress

Yep, you heard me correct: My tweets are going to be in the Library of Congress. Actually, your tweets will be in there too, as well as every other public tweet sent since the beginning of Twitter-Time.

The Library of Congress and Twitter have made an agreement that they will all be put into the library’s repository of historical documents.

“Why,” you might ask? According to the original story on the Federal News Radio website:

“There have been studies involved with what are the moods of the public at various times of the day in reaction to certain kinds of news events,” [Bill] Lefurgy [digital initiatives program manager at the library’s national digital information infrastructure and preservation program] said. “There’s all these interesting kinds of mixing and matching that can be done using the tweets as a big set of data.”

Remember that time you tweeted about how much you hate your job? How about the time that you drunk-tweeted from the bar’s restroom? And who could forget the time you just tweeted “FML” every day for a week?

Yep, there all going to be in there. Now the Library of Congress will finally be complete.

The Ultimate LAN Party House

So a Google employee, Kenton Varda, has apparently build a home for himself, and designed it to be able to host the ultimate LAN party, complete with 12 gaming stations (separated into two rooms for team play).

The stations themselves only contain a monitor with a mouse and keyboard, while the actual computers are housed in a different room and connected to a server machine.

Pretty neat stuff, Kenton Varda. Pretty neat.

Read the full story here.

WordPress for Android 2.0 Released

Hot off the press! WordPress for Android released version 2.0 earlier today. I’m giving it a bit of a workout right now writing this post.

The Great – This was originally just going to have a good and bad sections, but I can’t in fairness just call the new features just “good.”

I really love the new user interface. The dashboard is easy to use and gives you quick access to anything you need quick access to, including the new Quick Photo and Quick Video. Also new is the updated editor, the best part of which is either the new formatting toolbar or advanced media options. It’s a bit of a toss up as to which one I like more, as they are both pretty useful.

My favorite new feature, however, isn’t even mentioned on the WordPress for Android website. Instead of approving, spamming, or deleting comments one at a time, you can now mass update those comments with the new comment approval interface. Approving 20 comments just went from a several minute task to a several second task.

The Bad – Well, there isn’t much, really. In case you couldn’t already tell, I’m in love with the UI, so no huge complaints. One thing that I have noticed is that the post and page editing doesn’t separate the paragraphs with a single ‘enter.’ It treats it more like a line break for one enter, and a new paragraph for two. I guess that this is really more of an “I would have done it differently” thing, and it’s easy to work with once you know what to expect.

It does have the habit of crashing after adding a new self hosted site, but, in fairness, I am running it on a 1st generation Motorola Droid, so that may be contributing to the problem. The blogs still added properly in spite of the crashing, so it isn’t more than an annoyance than a major problem, but it did happen on three out of four attempts.

In Conclusion – Upgrade. It’s pretty sweet.

IBM’s Predictions for the Next Five Years

Every year since 2006, IBM has released a list of five predictions for the next five years. So, what’s on this year’s list? Well, in a quick summary:

  1. Kinetic motion wasted by things like walking or biking will be captured and used to, say, charge your cell phone.
  2. Passwords will be a thing of the past, as multifactor biometrics become the standard security check.
  3. Your cell phone will gain the ability to read your mind, allowing you to call someone just by thinking about calling them.
  4. The digital divide will go by the wayside, as mobile devices become available to even the lowest income bracket.
  5. Junk email will advance to the point where it’s so personalized, it doesn’t even feel like spam anymore.

All this stuff sounds pretty great, but before you get your hopes up for personalized spam, let’s look at some of IBM’s past predictions. The 2006 predictions, the first set they did, should by now have happened. Let’s go to the list:

  1. We will be able to access healthcare remotely, from just about anywhere in the world – No dice. Remote healthcare is becoming more and more mainstream here in the United States, but it’s hardly accessible in from just about anywhere in the lower 48, let alone anywhere in the world.
  2. Real-time speech translation—once a vision only in science fiction—will become the norm – Well, we’ve come a long way, that’s for sure. I can now talk to my cell phone and it can figure out what I want to text to someone half of the time… almost. Has it become the norm? Nope.
  3. There will be a 3-D Internet – What? We can’t even figure out what CSS3 is going to be, let alone “CSS3D.” And I realize that there are some “3D” things out there, but they are really not much more than what 3D movies are, so that doesn’t count.
  4. Technologies the size of a few atoms will address areas of environmental importance – Nanobots? I don’t know what else this could possibly refer to, so I’m going to go with nanobots. Sing along with me here: “Yes, we have no na-no-bots. We have no na-no-bots, today!”
  5. Our mobile phones will start to read our minds – Yea, I’m calling shenanigans on this one. Something they predicted five years ago they predicted again this year! Nice try, IBM.

So, yea, not so good on those ones. In fairness, they did predict in 2007 that Your cell phone will be your wallet, ticket broker, concierge, bank, shopping buddy and more. You could argue that all that is possible now, but take into consideration that this prediction was made the same year the iPhone came out, so it wasn’t that big of a limb they crawled out on. As far as I can tell, that, and You will have your own digital shopping assistants (2008) (which again could be your smartphone and the same thing), I’m not sure any of their predictions have come true.

The Day the ‘Net Fought Back

Remember when Ralphie beat the crap out of Scut Farkus in A Christmas Story? It sort of felt like that.

By 1:00 AM on Wednesday, January 18th, 3.03% of all tweets contained “SOPA” in one form or another, up from 0.16% on Tuesday (and 0.04% on Sunday) during the same hour. Reddit locked up its doors, Wikipedia turned off its lights, and Google’s plastered a horrid, black square over its logo. Many other websites and blogs, by some estimates up to 50,000 of them, followed suit. Suddenly, two bills that a day before very few people even knew about, everyone was talking about.

Traditional news outlets, most of them big supporters of the SOPA and PIPA bills who had been keeping quiet, were forced to start talking about them. Sponsors in both the House and Senate started pulling their support. According to a tweet from Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder, the House of Representative phone system went down under the strain of people calling in to express their opposition. “…the campaign is working…” he said. “Melt the phones!”

All of the sudden, everyone cared.

It was the first time that “the geek” stood up to it’s older, bully brother, and all his big, ugly friends. It was just one wet willie from Sony, one swirlie from NBC Universal, and one sucker punch from CBS too many. January 18th, 2012 was the day the Internet community finally punched back. Watching the news come through the day was an amazing, and I’m don’t think I’ll ever forget it. Today, we finally did something. Today, we whipped the bully.

But, unlike Ralphie’s tussle with Scut Farkus, one good butt whipping isn’t going to be the end of this fight. It looks like the bills, in their current versions, now have drawn enough attention that the lawmakers will have to reign in the powers they intended to give to these proposed laws. There will, however, be new versions, but we have to make sure we get these laws right. Today was a great example of how free speech is too important to screw up.

The piracy of music and movies must be stopped, but not at the expense of a free and open Internet. Under no circumstances should the United States employ the same tactics as China by placing a wall around our little corner of the ‘net.

The word is now out. Continue to read up on SOPA and PIPA. Keep yourself educated. Make sure you know who represents you in Washington, and what their phone number is. We may have to melt the phones a few more times down the road, and it may have to be soon.

The Great Drupal Experiment, Part 1

I’m a WordPress guy. All of my current client sites are WordPress sites. All of my personal project sites are WordPress sites. I develop almost exclusively for WordPress, and I’ve never found anything yet that I can’t make it do. In short, if WordPress is wrong, it’s quite possible that I don’t want to be right. So why Drupal?

It’s all about mind expansion, really. Getting myself out of my comfort zone and making myself try something new. And, perhaps, I might find that I like Drupal more than WordPress. Well, that and I committed to that goofy Twelve for Twelve thing, and checking out Drupal isn’t going to be the one thing that keeps me from getting all 12 done this year.

Going in to The Great Drupal Experiment, I do know a few things. For instance, I know that the top three content management systems for websites are:

  1. WordPress (used by 15.7% of all websites)
  2. Joomla (2.7%)
  3. Drupal (2.0%)

WordPress is, by far, number one, with a CMS market share of 53.9% compared to Drupal at 6.7%. I understand bigger or more popular doesn’t always mean better. I mean, I run Linux (about a 1.5% or so market share) 99.9% of the time, and complain about Windows (about a 74% market share) the 0.1% when I’m forced to use it. Still, that’s a pretty big gap between WordPress and Drupal.

Actually, now that I think about it, that’s about all I know about Drupal. That, and I’m skeptical.

Installation

I’m so used to installing WordPress that I can do the “Famous 5-Minute Install” in about two and a half minutes. Not trying to brag on my elite WordPress installation skills, just saying that WordPress is crazy easy to install. But, thinking back to the first time I installed WordPress, it took about ten minutes to get in figured out, up and running.

First install time for Drupal: about ten minutes to install on my netbook. (And before you ask, yes I said netbook. If you want to talk about why my netbook runs a web server and how much of a geek that makes me, we’ll just have to do that some other time.) But, yea, no major difference, as far as I can tell, between the installation processes for someone that isn’t familiar with the process. Pretty much a push.

In order to really try this out, though, I decided to install Drupal on one of my side project sites, visitbarnesville.com. Second install: about four minutes. Again, verses a WordPress installation, no advantage either way. I’m pretty sure if I installed this 30 times or so, I’d get just as good at it as I am at WordPress.

Initial Configuration

One thing that I can say about the first time I installed WordPress is that it all felt very intuitive. I wouldn’t say the same so far about Drupal. Adding some initial content was simple enough, but it did take me a few minutes and some Google-ing to figure out how to make a page the main page. Adding an initial article was simple as well.

“Block” setup did not feel natural at all. Getting the blocks where I wanted them was no big whoop, but not as simple as how it is handled in WordPress. I still haven’t figured out how to have the Recent Content block only display articles and not pages, and, although I think it’s pretty neat that new pages can be included in the Recent Content block alongside articles, it’s quite possible that I don’t want pages to show up there, and so far see no way to keep it from happening.

I also as of yet haven’t been able to get Clean URL’s enabled, which the equivalent in WordPress is so simple (and flexible) that you can change it daily if you really like. Drupal error-ed out with a very uninformative “The clean URL test failed.” message, with no explanation as to why it did or how to fix it. A quick search returned no useful information as to how to fix this.

Day One Summary

The only things I have found inherently intuitive about Drupal are initial setup and content addition/management, items that, had they not been, I’d have already given up on this little project. Everything else seems a bit clunky.

Domain Name Shenanigans

So, I received a letter the other day from a company called Domain Registry of America, and it just about made me sick, to be honest with you.

It said that domains for two of my clients (both non-profits with .org domain names) were expiring over the summer, that not renewing them would result in them becoming available to the public, and that I could renew the domain registration with any registrar that I wanted, including them. All of these points are true.

What really got me upset was the price they were asking: $35 for a one year renewal. Now, for anyone that has never registered a domain name, 35 bucks for a year really doesn’t sound like all that much. It is, in fact, an outrageous price. To renew with the current registrar, all fees and taxes included, would only be $15.17 for a one year renewal.

Even worse was that it seemed aimed directly at non-profit organizations, as the .com and .net variations of the domain names, which are also registered by me, were not even mentioned.

The bottom line is that Domain Registry of America is looking to charge folks an inflated fee for re-registering their domain name that quite possibly don’t know any better.

What a bunch of creeps.

For those businesses, non-profits, or what have you, that have domain names registered, keep an eye out for this. Sadly, Domain Register of America is not the only company doing this, so if something seems odd, it just might be. If you are in the Barnesville area, feel free to give me a call or shoot me an email, and I’d be happy to look at it for you, free of charge.

Shortened URL Security

If you’re anything as close to as paranoid about online security as I am, every time you see a shortened URL, like http://bit.ly/AAGooR, the first thing you wonder is “Will the website on the other end of that shortened URL be safe?” If you’re not at all paranoid about online security, time to get wise.

URL shortening services usually provide you with a way to find out where a shortened URL points. For Bit.ly and Goo.Gl, you can add a “+” to the end of the URL, so the very ambiguous http://bit.ly/AAGooR turns into http://bit.ly/AAGooR+, which tells you that it points to 10twebdesign.com and not some malicious website.

The problem is that the way you find out where a shortened URL points varies from service to service, and with over 300 shortening services (and counting) out there, keeping them straight is impossible. So how do you stay safe?

I give you longurl.org, which takes any of those shortened URLs expands it back out again so you have a little better idea of what you’re getting yourself into. It will, at the very least, give you the site’s title, full URL, keywords and description.

If the URL it spits back is “google.com” you’re probably in pretty good shape. If it’s “thiswebsitegivesyouavirus.com” and you decide to click through anyway, I hope everything works out alright.

Internet Freedom and the ITU

Looks like it could be happening again. Last time it was the SOPA/PIPA House and Senate bills that eventually went down after The Day the Whole ‘Net Went Away last January. This time the threat is from the International Telecommunications Union (previously the International Telegraph Union), an obscure limb of the United Nations tree.

Just like last time, no leaders of the Internet community are being invited to the discussion.

I have a lot of issues with this, the first being that the ITU wants to move the management of domain names away from the current Internet community driven model. Guess who they want to be responsible for the domain name management? The U.N.

Yep. If they accomplish what they really want, I would have to register brockrogers.com (not to mention my business’s domain name and all of my client’s domain names) through the U.N. Absurd.

Second concern: The U.N. thinks they have the right to do this based on a treaty that’s a quarter of a century old. When it was written, not only did Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Wikipedia not exist, the World Wide Web didn’t exist.

And my final (major) concern: In addition to the U.N. controlling domain names, they would also control the flow, or restriction, of data, effectively allowing them to censor the Internet. I think it’s also important to point out that this meeting is taking place in the United Arab Emirates, a country that is on the Countries Under Surveillance list compiled by Reporters Without Borders. The government forcibly censors anything they consider ‘politically sensitive,’ all Israeli domains, any material considered against the perceived moral values of the UAE. They also prevent most, if not all, VoIP services, such as Skype, Vontage, and the like.

Stay aware of what is going on here. Countries that censor the Internet include Bahrain, Burma, China, Cuba, and North Korea. Not a list I think we should be eager to join.

WordPress 3.5 (Elvin) Released

WordPress LogoThe newest version of WordPress, 3.5, (code-named ‘Elvin’) dropped today, three months and five days after 3.4.2. Major changes in this release include an upgraded media manager, a new default theme, dashboard resolution improvements, and some behind the scenes improvements.

Upgrading from 3.4.2 was as easy as it always is for WordPress upgrades. Maybe I have been lucky, but I’ve never had an issue with any upgrade, and this one was no different. Speed has never been a problem, either; the upgrade completed in about 20 seconds, and I’m off trying the new features.

New Media Manager

The biggest change that I see in version 3.5 is the new media manager. The interface has changed drastically, and at first I felt that it might be a bit overwhelming for the less tech savvy. After using it, though, I realized it only looked intimidating. It’s actually quite easy to use if you just dive in.

WordPress 3.5 Image Gallery

WordPress 3.5 Image Gallery

Image galleries have been around since 2.5, but they have never been easy to work with. You had to upload, attach, then manually put the gallery shortcode in. With the new media manager, creating galleries becomes trivial. You can drag and drop the images to reorder, caption them quickly, and with button-click ease, insert them into you posts.

I had always been frustrated by the lack of a good image gallery in WordPress. The NextGEN Gallery plugin always filled the gap, but with the improvements, I have started removing NextGEN from many of my sites. NextGEN’s image arrangement was always lacking, I thought. While it gives you nice pop-ups for each image in the gallery, site visitors can’t comment on individual images, which I hate. I guess it depends on what you are looking for out of your image gallery. I will still use NextGEN in given situations, but it won’t automatically be installed on new sites anymore.

Another new function of the media manager is the ability to insert several images into a post at once, then write the post around the inserted images. I tend to write first, then insert images later, so I’m not sure how useful this will be for me, but I can see how others would find it useful.

New Default Theme

Seeing as how it’s almost 2013, I guess it was just about time for the Twenty Twelve theme release. It’s everything that Twenty Ten and Eleven were, updated and kept light. It’s a fine default theme and its look stays pretty consistent across various devices. As they say on the About page: simple, flexible, and elegant.

Dashboard Resolution Improvements

Even on smaller screens, the WordPress dashboard could get a little grainy if you zoomed in. On higher resolution devices, it could get a little grainy if you stood across the room. Well, no more, even when zoomed in as far as you can. It’s eye candy for the backend, for sure, and really doesn’t have the slightest impact on reaching the people you are trying to reach with your website, but it really does look great.

Square Buttons

Speaking of changes that have no impact on reaching people, the buttons are more square now. I know, not Earth-shaking, but I did notice. Moving on…

Behind the Scenes Stuff

There are some things that you might not notice if you’re not a developer. TinyMCE, the editor you more than likely use to edit all your posts, updates to the latest version, as does jQuery and SimplePie.

The XML-RPC WordPress API, which is used to post from your smart phone or tablet, is now always enabled. I see no reason it shouldn’t have always been by default. Saves me a step when setting up a new site, seeing as how that was one of the first options I changed within the first five minutes after setup.

All in All

I’m pretty impressed. It’s a nice release. Seems stable and as speedy as the previous version, and has noteworthy improvements. And I really like the new media manager. And the square buttons.

History of Barnesville, Ohio

Pretty interesting: you can now read History of Barnesville, Ohio by Richard Taneyhill online. The book is hosted over at the Library of Congress, and you can download it in PDF format, for Kindle, and several other formats for free.

For anyone that’s never heard of archive.org, they have open texts of all sorts, from Library of Congress stuff to texts from Project Gutenberg, all of which are free. If you have an Internet connection, you should never be at a loss for reading material.