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.

1&1 hosting plans

I’ve been using 1&1 for web hosting for a very long time. Their reputation is mixed, but I’ve never had any huge problem with them. An occasional hiccup, but not that often really. I’m currently paying about $6.25 per month for my hosting plan. But I just got an email saying that they’re changing me over to their “1&1 Unlimited Plus” plan, which will cost me $11 per month. This supposedly includes an 8% discount off their normal rate, which I guess would make the normal rate $12.

Looking at their web site, it looks like new customers can get Unlimited Plus for $5/month for the first year, and $10/month after that. So I’m a little confused about how $11/month is a discounted rate. Maybe I’ll e-mail them about that. At any rate, it looks like the new plan might include a free SSL certificate, which I’m currently paying $50/year for, so that would offset the price increase. (Of course, there are other ways of getting free SSL certificates these days, so I shouldn’t have to pay for SSL regardless.)

I don’t really have any intention to move off 1&1, but a price increase is always a motive to look around at alternatives.

WordPress syntax highlighting

I occasionally post code here, and I’ve never been entirely satisfied with the various ways that one can post nicely-formatted code on a blog. This blog has been around for so long that I’ve gone through several approaches. Recently, I’ve been putting all my code snippets in Github Gists, and then embedding those Gists here.

That looks pretty good, and works pretty well, but I’ve discovered a couple of downsides to that method. First, the code itself is not actually in my posts, so it doesn’t show up in searches, either here at the blog or (presumably) in Google or other search engines. I realized this a while back when I tried to search for a past post, using a bit of code that I knew was in the post. When I didn’t find it, I realized that of course the code wasn’t in the post, it was only out on Github. So I wanted to fix that, and get the code itself into my post database.

Second, the company I work for has started blocking the Gist site. I’m not sure why, but I guess maybe it’s occasionally used to post malicious code? Regardless, it’s a problem, since I sometimes want to bring up an old post of mine at work to remind myself of how I solved a problem in the past. When I do that now, the post is visible but the embedded gist is missing. And if my company is blocking gists, other companies are probably doing it too, so other people looking at my blog might be confused when they see a post with missing code.

So there are some good reasons to include actual code in my posts, rather than relying on Github. I could go back to just wrapping the code in <pre> and/or <code> tags, but I wanted to have something that would look at least as good as the embedded gists. So I started looking at syntax-highlighting plugins for WordPress.

I looked at Enlighter and WP-Syntax. Enlighter looks pretty cool, but I decided to go with WP-Syntax in the end. It uses GeSHI, which I’ve used before (in Drupal), and supports a lot of languages, including X++, which is a pretty obscure language. I installed it about a week ago. Today, I decided to spend a little time editing some of my old posts to move code from gists to WP-Syntax. It worked out pretty well. (And I’m still linking to the gists, so if the code gets scrambled, it’ll still be there on Github.)

To some extent, I guess this is just pointless busywork. My old posts don’t really get a lot of hits, and I really don’t refer back to them that often. But it was a nice little way to spend an hour on a cold Sunday afternoon, and it gave me a sense of accomplishment.

Amazon Affiliate Links

Amazon has recently made some changes to their affiliate program that are going to have a negative impact on some bloggers. Here are a couple of articles about the change, from The Verge and The Digital Reader.

I’ve been using Amazon affiliate links here on my blog for a long time. And I’ve never earned a penny from them. And that’s fine. I used to use SiteStripe to generate fancy image links, but I’ve had problems with those since I switched from Blogger to WordPress. So lately I’ve just been using SiteStripe’s short URL links. For me, it’s really just a way to get a short URL that might (but probably won’t) make me a buck or two at some point. But there are some sites that have based their “business model” on Amazon affiliate links, and they’re going to be in a bit of trouble. The Wirecutter and The Sweethome used to be in that category, but since they’ve been acquired by the NY Times, maybe they don’t have to rely so much on Amazon.

Either way, relying on something as fragile as affiliate links for anything other than a little extra coffee money has always seemed a bit daft to me. On the other hand, online advertising is a mess too, with so many people using ad blockers, and getting people to pay for content doesn’t usually work out too well either. I’m glad I have a good day job!

WordPress post formats

In addition to doing my taxes today, I also spent some time messing around with this blog. The theme I’m using, Stargazer, supports post formats. I’ve messed around with them a little, marking some posts as video, audio, quotes, and images. I thought the feature was kind of nifty, though it didn’t seem to have that much utility.

Over time, though, I’ve started to see some downsides to post formats. There seemed to be some issues with the way they were treated in certain plugins. (Specifically, it looked like they were being ignored, and the plugin would only see standard format posts.) So I thought it might be a good idea to just reset all the posts to “standard,” and avoid using them in the future.

I couldn’t initially find a way to get a list of posts by format. I did some searching and found the Post Format Filter plugin. It hasn’t been updated in a long time, but it still works, so I used that to search out and reset all my posts to standard. That was kind of boring work, but it allowed me to stumble across some fun old posts.

WordPress miscellany

Every once in a while, I spend some time messing around with WordPress, evaluating plugins, looking into minor issues, and stuff like that. I’ve got a few little items that might be worth blogging about, so I decided to combine them into a “miscellany” post.

I recently got a puzzling email from Google, telling me that my WordPress install was out of date. My WordPress install, in fact, was completely up–to-date, and it seemed weird for Google to be sending out an email like that anyway, never mind an incorrect one. I thought it might be a phishing attempt or something, but all the links on it seemed genuine, plus it seemed really unlikely that GMail would deliver a fake Google email to my inbox rather than my spam folder. Well, this article at WPTavern clears everything up. So that’s a relief.

I’ve been keeping WordPress and all my plugins up to date, generally speaking. I also noticed at WPTavern that WP Super Cache was just updated to patch some vulnerabilities and fix some bugs. I’ve been using WP Super Cache for a long time, and have never had any trouble with it. Of course, this site has never been hit with enough traffic to really need a cache, but I guess it’s nice to have one, just in case.

I have a test WordPress site, with all the same plugins as my “production” site, and I generally update that one first, then update the real site if everything is OK. I’ve thought about getting rid of the test site recently, since it didn’t seem to be serving much of a purpose. But I recently had an incident where updating a plugin broke the site, so I’m glad I still have that test site. And I’ve been experimenting with some new plugins recently too, so the test site is a good place to do that.

In particular, I’ve been experimenting with syntax highlighting plugins. I think I like WP-Syntax. I haven’t installed it on the production site yet, but I probably will. I’ve also been experimenting with Jetpack’s Markdown support. I really want to embrace Markdown, but I can never quite talk myself into it.

And I’m still on the fence about backup. I’m currently using the free version of UpdraftPlus, with a little script of my own that I run periodically to copy backup files from my host to my local PC. But I’ve been thinking about switching to the paid personal Jetpack plan, for $39/year, that includes daily site backups.

Post 2001

I have nothing much to say here, just that I noticed that yesterday’s post was #2000. So this is #2001. I started blogging in the year 2001, and (for some reason) never stopped. So here we are. Post #1000 happened in September 2007. At that point, I was still using Blogger. I switched to WordPress in 2014, and I’ve been happy with that decision, though I never had any big problem with Blogger.

I’m not in the mood for a lot of self-reflection this morning; I just wanted to make note of the milestone. I do have a lot of things I want to blog about though, so I’m going to get on with that.