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Inbound maintenance!

Later today I'm going to try and update all the blogs on this server to a newer version of Movable Type. I've been running on 3.33 for a couple of years; my wife's blog was running on a separate MT 3.2 install on the same server. We've now successfully moved all the blogs to the same instance of the content management system, and that makes the years-overdue upgrade a lot easier.

What this means: some time in the next few hours, I'm going to disable comments on all blog entries, on all our blogs. This is to permit me to take a backup snapshot of the current system (and the underlying database) before I start the upgrade. Once the upgrade is complete and tested, I'll re-enable comments. If it fails ... restore from backup.

Why am I doing this? Three reasons. First, MT 4.x has better anti-spam facilities. We get a fair amount of drive-by spamming, and keeping it out of your eyes is a regular maintenance chore; the more automated the process, the better. Secondly: MT 4.x has a whole bunch of whizzy community features, including (optionally) threaded discussions and support for OpenID. Being able to know who I'm talking to will allow me to use my blog for hosting stuff only specific readers are supposed to see (call it a focus group enabler, if you will). Finally, once we're stable on the new software I'll be starting in on a long-overdue overhaul of the look and feel of my website.

My overall web philosophy can be summed up as: serve your readers. In the old days, that meant keeping the site simple, standards-compliant, and blazingly fast to load (no graphics). I used to test on a Palm Pilot to make sure that it was still usable — and designed it so that blind folks with text-to-speech software could navigate it easily.

These days broadband has caught fire, Microsoft is no longer a browser near-monopoly (which makes it easier to argue designers out of designing for a single browser), and 50% of mobile hits come from iphones. So I'm considering relaxing my per-page size constraint (set in the days of 56kbps dialup) by an order of magnitude, and using JavaScript in some places (as long as it's still navigable by the blind or folks with obsolete or non-standard browsers). On the other hand, I'm getting north of a million HTTP requests a month, 30-70,000 full page downloads per day, and serving up a gigabyte of outgoing bandwidth per day — even with the austere, low-graphics version of my website. So I've got to be careful about this rich content stuff ...

UPDATE: And we're baaaack!

25 Comments

1:

Does this mean that users will now be getting 'logons' or is MT4 much more wizzy than my simian brain can even begin to comprehend?

2:

I'm still trying to track down and kill some annoying Perl dependency bugs ... changing stuff is going to have to wait for a while yet!

3:

Another test ...

4:

This is bugging me. Basically: most everything is working. However, there's an annoying dependency whoopsie somewhere in Libwww-Perl, aka LWP. I think it's producing a version conflict between some libraries that get called by a couple of obscure but important plugins (hint: they're the spam filters). Time to bring the big guns to bear ...

5:

I only ever visit the site when I want to post a comment, I read the blog in Thunderbird's RSS thingy, along with William Gibson's and Ken Macleod's and a few others.

6:

serraphin @1
Hopefully not on the logons, it really annoys me that so much of the web seems to think I should register, just so they can use the info for marketing.

And Charlie, after the history of Stross-programming god there's no way anyone is going to suggest solution ideas, unless perhaps one of the MT programmers chances by (what was Carmack doing here BTW?)

7:

I'm not planning on marketing at people. I want logins for two reasons: (a) spam blocking, and (b) so I can let certain folks see certain chunks of the site (which don't exist yet and which will be only semi-public, if that).

That and, oh, turning it into a full-blown forum system.

(Also: when it's working, you'll still be able to read the public areas of the site -- all those you can see right now -- without logging in. And you won't need to register with me for a login unless you want to -- the system will accept Google, Yahoo, OpenID, Facebook, or any other identifier you care to offer it.)

8:

Iain@6: if Charlie's organising his blog anything like the way I am (and I'm the one whose likely to be implementing it), there will be the option of a login for those who want to use particular features, and Open ID will be supported too if you choose to use that identity here, but you will still be able to comment with nothing more than an e-mail address.

9:

Ok, so TypePad support works.

OpenID coming soon?

10:

Ok, I was a bit unsure about this logging in business, but it has been explained and seems to work ok, so here we go.

11:

Test post.

IF this works, I've got here in the end. Initially signed up to Typepad using LJ/OpenID. That worked, but when trying to sign in here, couldn't because signing in requires a password & registering at Typepad with LJ/OpenID means that I don't get a password with which to use...

So I now have two Typepad profiles, one with LJ/OpenID, the other using a GMail address.

12:

So you turned on logins ten minutes later.

Needless to say, there's no way, given my statements, that I'm giving it valid data. Whatever you say, however much you don't think you are doing marketing, that's exactly what Typepad are trying to do with the data.

It's not necessary (especially for spam, for which it doesn't work), it invades privacy, in short it's a damn dumb idea. You should find another way.

Sorry if you think that's very B&W, but I've seen too many instances where "just put your email address here" translates into torrents of spam mail, all the while the host swears blind "no we didn't sell your email address". When you point out its a one off email address, including the sitename and "nospam", and hasn't gone anywhere else, they still swear blind they are innocent.

13:

Charlie, because your site was so simple, I have gotten into the habit of accessing it with my old computer running IE5. Naturally, with such an old browser, stange things happen on a lot of sites, but yours has a unique feature. The text on your home page randomily varies between Times Roman and Arial. Do you have any idea what causes this? I just find it intruging.

14:

Ian: anonymous commenting should be permitted again. (I'm still learning the control interface -- MT 4 is very different from MT 3.33.)

Dave: I've no idea what's causing your problem, but I suspect it's probably IE5 choking on the CSS. I'd better warn you that the site is going to get a little more complex in the near future; I'm going to try and keep the graphics lightweight (because I've got a lot of readers -- if I start using 500Kb images as part of my layout, my bandwidth bill will go through the roof), but you may want to look for another lightweight browser compatible with your version of Windows (Win98SE? Win2K?) but more compliant with web standards.

15:

Very cool. I use OpenID so I'd be interested when you have that functionality online.

16:

Charlie,

I don't like the idea of some of the changes you are suggesting. I worry when I see words such as whizzy community features. That smells of Web 2.0 fail, sad to say.

Administration of forums and facilities will take you away from writing more, but I would rather you wrote than administered. Logins will put off some users, no matter what your intentions. Who trusts Google, Yahoo or Facebook, especially those who come here? I think you will lose credibility by aligning with these, no matter how limited. Rich content or unwanted facilities may mask the information content, but your information is what I come here for. I don't think bandwidth will be a problem as bandwidth you may lose in hits will be used instead for the rich content and extra facilities. I hope I am wrong and you will let us know how it goes once it is all working, but I fear I will be right.

I guess one reason for doing this right now is you want to use the old technical parts of your brain after the autobiography. Let's party like it's Dot Com 1999!

17:

"Posted by: Feòorag" [sic]

Looks like there's still some debugging to do?

18:

Pablo: I currently use an LJ account (friends-locked) for critiquing early drafts of my fiction. I want to be able to move that function onto my own server -- but it's not public; I want to expose it only to people I know. Hence: logins.

I'm also thinking in terms of improving the comment system (possibly going to threaded discussions).

And another reason for the upgrade is to make it easier to nuke comment spam (of which I get a fair bit).

Jon: yes, that's being looked at. MT 4.x handles HTML entities in comment headers differently from MT 3.33. There are other minor things that broke with the upgrade that I'm trying to fix -- no show stoppers, but annoying stuff. (For example, searching is currently broken on www.prattle.net.)

19:

Jon@17: Mended now!

20:

The one problem I have with the site is that because of the relative lack of columns, it tends to be very wide; too wide to read in portrait form on my iPhone! Have to put it into landscape. Not sure if there's a good way to deal with this. (Perhaps some CSS that detects iPhones, and narrows the effective width of the screen to something legible in portrait.)

21:

Figured out my login problem. If anyone has a notebook/machine that uses any kind of single sign in system (biometrics on my HP notebook in this case), it appears to completely flip out the Typepad login.

Turn off single sign in and Bob's your transgender relative of choice.

22:

Urm. Typepad barfs on my Yahoo OpenID - strange...

23:

Ian Smith @12:
I shall be providing an interesting datum. The email address I used to register is a newly minted one (actually months old but never been used) which has never received mail until yesterday. Should it suddenly be deluged with SPAM...

24:

Well, as long as it still works using elinks .. (because that's what I fire up in a screen-window when I see a post in the rss feed that I want to comment on. RSS is being read via newsbeuter in screen)

Too many sites don't (effectively) allow comments using a text-mode browser since they use captchas ..

25:

For what it's worth, the front page takes over a second to load for me, typically about 1300ms to DOMContentLoaded according to Firebug, even though I'm only 255ms of ping-time away here in Argentina (which is itself kind of high, since we're only c·75ms apart, round-trip, geodesically). It seems that the problem is:

  • nearly every time I load the page, I open a new TCP connection (in part because Apache doesn't like to keep TCP connections open too long);
  • the new TCP connection has a ridiculously small window size to start with, like 6 kilobytes, so more round-trips are wasted on getting me the 27K of the page.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on July 15, 2009 11:50 AM.

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