new WordPress theme and PHP version

My second pointless project today, after spending the morning messing with bookmarks and browsers, was to find a new theme for this blog, and update the version of PHP that I’m using.

I’ve been using the Stargazer theme for a long time, and I’ve been really happy with it. But it hasn’t been updated since 2018. And I’ve started getting PHP errors on this site. I also noticed that I was running PHP 7.4, and should probably switch to 8.0. Doing a little testing with that revealed that Stargazer definitely would not work with 8.0. So I decided it was time to upgrade to a newer theme.

I tried out a few free themes from and I didn’t find anything that was quite what I wanted. After trying a bunch of stuff, I’ve settled (for now) on the Twenty Sixteen theme. Twenty Sixteen is, of course, the default WordPress theme for 2016. I tried out a couple of the newer ones, but they weren’t right for me. Twenty Sixteen has a right sidebar, a header that doesn’t look too bad, and a fairly clean layout. I don’t know if I’m going to stick with it, but it’s good enough for now.

After installing it, I upgraded my PHP install to 8.0. That seems to be working fine. So at least now I’m running a recent PHP, a recently-updated theme, and a fully up-to-date WordPress.

I’d really like to switch to something a little more customized, but this is good enough for now.

Blogging vs. blog setups

I saw this comic on Twitter this morning, and immediately started thinking about where I fit on it. The comic is from, and I hope he doesn’t mind me pasting it in here. (His blog is worth a look, by the way.)

This site started out under Blogger in 2001, so it kind of fits the “old-ass site” description, but I moved it to WordPress in 2014, so it kind of almost fits the “WordPress setup from 2004” description too, though a decade later. (And before Blogger, I was doing some proto-blogging on my old GeoCities site, which would definitely have fit the “weird dude who writes raw HTML” category. I’d like to have some claim to the “cool MIT professor” data point, but I’m nowhere near that one.)

On the “number of posts about elaborate blog setups” axis, I like to think I don’t spend too much time blogging about blogging, though of course that’s what I’m doing right now. Looking at my stats, I have 62 posts tagged “Blogger”, 52 posts tagged “WordPress”, and 2,442 posts total here. So, yeah, not too much meta-blogging.

Of course, for me, initially, part of the point of blogging was to learn about HTML, web hosting, the UNIX command line, and stuff like that. And when I switched to WordPress, part of the point there was just to learn more about WordPress, for professional reasons. But my work now doesn’t really involve any of that stuff, so now the blog is just a blog and I don’t fiddle with the setup that much. I’ve even thought of moving it to, so I don’t have to worry about the setup at all.

Content-wise, I wish my blog was more interesting/useful and less navel-gazing, but I’m kind of okay with navel-gazing right now, since it’s been a rough year and the blog is one of my only outlets for getting stuff out of my head now. I could go see a therapist, I guess, but my blog hosting is only $14/month, and I’m pretty sure therapy would cost a lot more.

tinkering with WordPress

Just for the sake of doing something useful today, I decided to tinker with my WordPress setup a bit. I’d upgraded to WordPress 5.5 in mid-August, then updated my version of PHP from 7.3.21 to 7.4.9. And, a little later, I switched to a new syntax highlighting plugin. I had one more major thing on my to-do list: upgrading to a newer version of MySQL.

My host, IONOS, makes it easy to switch PHP versions; you can do that right in their control panel. But you can’t just switch to a new MySQL version. You have to create a new database, export you data, import it to the new database, then edit your WordPress config file to point to the new database. So I did that first on my test database, and it worked fine, so I went ahead and did it with my production database too.

It had been a long time since I’d done anything even vaguely low-level with MySQL. The IONOS control panel lists your MySQL databases and gives you a link to get to a phpMyAdmin site for each of them. From there, you can backup, restore, run queries, and so on. On my first try, I forgot that you need to edit the backup SQL to remove the “create database” command, and edit the “use” command to point to the new database. But once I figured that out, I didn’t have any problems.

My old test WordPress install takes up 19 MB in the old database and 35 MB in the new one. I’m not sure why the new version is bigger than the old version. I could probably figure that out, but it’s not really important. The max size on a MySQL database in IONOS is 1000 MB, so I’m fine there. The production blog is 60 MB in the old database and 87 MB in the new one. So if you ever wondered how much space 20 years of blog entries takes up, it’s apparently 87 MB.

I did all this on my PC, rather than my Mac, and it turns out that I didn’t have an SFTP client installed. On my Mac, I generally use Commander One for SFTP file management. On the PC, I’ve recently started using Directory Opus as an Explorer replacement. Opus includes SFTP support, but it’s an add-on purchase, and I hadn’t bothered with it when I paid for my license a few months ago. I went ahead and enabled a trial of the FTP functionality today, and it worked fine. So I’ll probably pay for it when the trial expires. It’s only $10.

The first thing I did after switching to the new database was to run a WordPress site backup with UpdraftPlus. I’ve been using UpdraftPlus for a long time. I’ve stuck with the free version, which is good enough for me. The paid version is $70, plus $42/year after the first year. That’s not bad, I guess, but I don’t really need it.

The next thing on my WordPress “rainy day” list is to maybe look into switching to a new theme. The Stargazer theme that I’ve been using since 2014 hasn’t been updated in a couple of years and is being “phased out” by its developer. He’s replacing it with something called Exhale, for which he’s charging $50/year. I don’t have a problem with that, but I’d like to stick to a free theme, if I can. (If I was actually making money off this blog, I’d be more willing to spend money on subscription themes and backup services, but this is really just a little personal blog with no revenue stream, so I like to keep things simple.)

WordPress syntax highlighting

I started writing a blog post about PowerShell today, then got caught up in an issue with the code syntax highlighting plugin that I’ve been using on this blog since 2017. I’ve been using WP-Syntax since then, and I’ve generally been happy with it, but there are a few things that bug me, so that set me off looking into other options. One issue I noticed is that WP-Syntax hasn’t been updated in four years, and hasn’t been tested with recent versions of WordPress. So that definitely got me looking for a good alternative.

My search led me to SyntaxHighlighter Evolved, which seems to be under active development and worked well in my testing. It uses a special shortcode for highlighting, which means that I’m going to have to go through all of my old code posts and replace <pre> tags with “code” tags. I did a search to find those, and apparently I only have about 40 posts on this blog with code in them. That’s a little embarrassing, considering that I have more than 2000 posts on this blog. I always want to write more programming-related posts with real code in them, but I never get around to it. Well, maybe this will motivate me.

odds and ends

OK, after this morning’s depressing Warren Ellis post, here’s some lighter stuff. Just a mix of stuff I’ve been meaning to mention, for one reason or another.

Google AdSense

I added Google AdSense to my blog back in 2010 and removed it in 2016. But I never closed out my account. So I did that this week. Now, I can finally get the $15 that Google owes me. (Normally, they don’t pay out until you hit $100, but if you close your account, they’ll pay out any balance, if it’s over $10.) I wonder how many small bloggers like me are still bothering with AdSense. For a while, a lot of people thought they could make good money by running a blog and putting AdSense on it. I’m wondering if any of them really did.

New Toys

I haven’t made much more progress in setting up my new laptop. I was too busy yesterday to even turn it on. Hopefully, I’ll have time to do some stuff with it this weekend. I did also just get a new Amazon Echo Dot (with clock). I don’t really have a good excuse for buying it. I had an old iHome alarm clock / iPhone dock on my nightstand that I couldn’t really use anymore, since it doesn’t fit the newer iPhones. And that was fine, really, since I don’t really need a clock on my nightstand. These days, I just plug my iPhone in, and use Sleep Cycle as my alarm clock. But, I don’t know, I guess I just wanted a small clock there that could play music or NPR or whatever. And it was only $35. I already have some experience with Alexa, since it’s supported on my Sonos speakers, but I turned off the mics on those, since it was getting accidentally triggered too often, and I didn’t really find it that useful. I’m going to play around with it some more on the Echo and see if there’s anything fun or useful that I can do with it.

Learning New Stuff

I finished the SharePoint Framework course that I was working through. That’s given me a good start, but there’s still a lot I need to figure out. I’m almost done with the React course on SharePoint that I’ve been watching and working through. Most of that course uses an online JavaScript environment, found at, so you don’t need to set up your own dev environment. But I’m now at the point where I really do need to set up a dev environment to get any further. I considered a lot of options, but settled on using Homebrew on my Mac to set up Node.js. And I’m using Visual Studio Code as my text editor. So that’s good enough for now.

I may need to play with Node Version Manager at some point, but for now, I think that would be an unnecessary complication. And, on Windows, I want to look into setting something up under WSL2 at some point. Microsoft, helpfully, has a guide on how to do that. But, again, I’m probably not ready to dive into that just yet.

So that’s my “odds and ends” post for today. I could write up a bunch of other stuff, but it’s probably best if I stop for now and go eat some lunch. Then maybe take a nap.

WordPress and PHP

I got a bill from 1&1 / IONOS last week for PHP 5.6 Extended Support. I was a little surprised by this, since I thought I’d already taken care of updating PHP to a supported version, but it turns out that I was remembering updating from 5.4 to 5.6 three years ago. (Tempus fugit.) It looks like 5.6 reached EOL at the end of 2018. So I guess I’m paying $7 now for not having upgraded PHP in a while. I went ahead and updated to 7.2.15, so I should be good now for a while, though I guess I should update to 7.3 at some point. And I’ve got WordPress updated to 5.1.1 too. Everything still seems to be working, which is nice.

Every once in a while, I think about switching to some kind of managed WordPress install, so I don’t have to worry about this stuff anymore. Maybe just the $5/month plan from or something like that. But I still like futzing with this stuff a little, so for now, I’ll stay with the traditional web hosting plan, where I’m free to mess things up and forget to update PHP and stuff like that. But I think I’m getting close to the point where I’m going to want to hand this stuff off to somebody else and just concentrate on the blogging and not worry about the sysadmin side of things. Maybe in another three years.

WordPress 5

I just updated this blog to WordPress 5.0.3. I’d been putting off updating it to WP 5, partially because I wanted to wait until they’d gotten a few point releases out and fixed any major bugs. And partially because the big new feature in WP 5, the Gutenberg editor, is not that interesting to me. I tried it out on my test site, and didn’t really like it. For now, I’m leaving the Classic Editor plugin installed and enabled. I’m glad they’ve provided this plugin, rather than trying to force the new editor on people. I’ll probably give Gutenberg a try again at some point, maybe after watching a video tutorial or two. (I haven’t gone looking for any, but I assume they’re out there.)

There’s been a lot of controversy and grumbling about Gutenberg, but I don’t have a problem with it, as long as they’re not forcing it on people, and as long as they take constructive feedback on it and keep working on it. I’m just thankful that WordPress continues to exist as an open source project, and continues to get updated. I’ve been using WordPress for almost five years now, and it’s been great.

broken links

I installed the Broken Link Checker plugin on my site today, and spent probably too much time fixing broken links. Doing blog maintenance like this feels like productive work, but really isn’t. But it’s kind of fun, and lets me stroll down memory lane a bit, rediscovering stuff like Get Your War On, which I’d forgotten about.

A lot of dead links can be easily replaced with ones from the Wayback Machine, and the plugin helps with that. But some of the links on this blog seem to have completely disappeared from the internet, which makes me a little sad. Nothing lasts forever, I guess, even an interesting review of The Two Towers from a newspaper in Las Vegas that apparently only existed from 2003 to 2005. Oh well.

I’ve been linking to Wikipedia, the NY Times, and Amazon a lot lately. I think (and hope) that those sources will be around for a while, and that they won’t mess with their URL schemes in a way that breaks old links. (For the most part, they haven’t, at least recently.)

The plugin has found more than 600 broken links so far, and I’m not even sure if it’s done crawling the site yet. I need to be careful about getting too wrapped up in this, or I’ll be doing it all day. (Or maybe all week.) I’ve actually talked myself into deleting some old posts, where the links are dead, and I didn’t really say anything interesting about them. That’s always been hard for me to do, but I’ve got more than 2000 posts on this blog, so it makes sense to cull some useless ones out occasionally.

TidBITS redesign

I’ve been reading the TidBITS newsletter for years. They’ve been publishing it for 28 years; I’ve been subscribing to it for more than ten. (I’m not sure how long exactly, but at least since 2002.) They just unveiled a new design and back-end after many years under the old design and system. The new system is based on WordPress, which isn’t surprising. Lots of websites (including mine) are running on WordPress these days. The design looks good. I haven’t seen any hiccups with the back-end yet, so hopefully they’ve done a good job with that. TidBITS has always been a good source of Apple news and analysis, better in general than most of the more modern web sites. (I won’t mention specific sites, but I’m thinking of certain sites with a lot of “top ten” listicles, sponsored content, and more space devoted to ads than articles.)

I’m always interested in how sites like TidBITS remain commercially viable. I doubt they make much money from ads these days. They probably get a modest amount of money from their membership program. And they have something called the TidBITS Content Network now too, which is interesting. They used to run Take Control Books also, but they sold that off a while back. I should probably pay them for a one-year membership. I keep meaning to do that, but I never quite get around to it.

I like the newsletter model for this kind of content, and I wish more people would use it. I’d love to find a Windows newsletter that’s as good as TidBITS. Years ago, I used to subscribe to Windows Secrets and that was pretty good for a while. It looks like they’re still around, but as a paid newsletter only, and it appears that none of the original contributors to the site are still involved. I found a recent post on Woody Leonhard’s site that runs through a little of the history of Windows Secrets. It used to have a lot of good content, from people like Woody, and Brian Livingston, and a couple of other good tech writers whose names I can’t remember now.

New SSL certificate

This blog should now have a new, slightly less fancy, SSL certificate. I had been using a $49/year certificate from 1&1, my hosting provider. It was issued via GeoTrust, and worked fine. A while back, 1&1 switched me to a slightly more expensive plan that included a free SSL cert. But of course they didn’t automatically move the paid one over. And there wasn’t an obvious way to do it from the control panel. I meant to call them about it, and didn’t get around to it before the cert renewed in June. So I had planned on doing that at some point next year before it renewed again. But I got an email this week telling me that it would renew this month. I do have an invoice from them saying that I renewed it through June 2018, so I’m not sure why they think it’s expiring now. But that finally motivated me to call them and get the cert moved over to the free one. The call was pretty simple and easy: only a short hold time, and the rep I got spoke English well, fixed things quickly, and didn’t try to sell me on any new services. Looking at the cert in Firefox now, It looks like a perfectly good DigiCert certificate, good through December 2018. Now let’s see if they really canceled the old one, or if they try to bill me for the renewal next month.