Category Archives: Website

Dream Merger: A Silicon Valley Engagement

During our trip to his hometown during the July 4th weekend, my boyfriend, Troy, proposed to me. I was so shocked and speechless that I only managed to come up with a one word reply: yes! You can read more about the proposal from his blog post, Dream Merger. I know commitment can seem to be a scary thing for a lot of people, but being engaged to Troy has truly been a wonderful and fun experience. I just wished that the wedding planning was not so daunting. Fortunately, with Troy’s help and support I am less inclined to skip the preparations and elope. :D

Being the Silicon Valley geeks that we are, one of the first decisions we made after the engagement was not the when and where of the wedding, but what domain name to get. Since we wanted to use Google Apps to help us with our planning and organizing, we needed a domain name to associate with our accounts. After much discussion, we chose DreamMerger.com. Because the companies we each work at have been considered a dream merger by bloggers, we often joked about how our dating was like a corporate merger. When we got engaged, Troy’s dad described us as a marriage made in Silicon Valley heaven.

I do not know right now the when and where of the wedding. I have a vague idea of when I want it, and that is dependent on the venue, which is dependent on our budget. Sometimes I want to skip all the planning and get married at city hall. However, wedding planning is a great chance for us to work as a team to collaborate, budget, compromise, and be creative and resourceful. Of course, we have fun, too, which will hopefully be reflected in the celebration so that our guests will have a great time.

Awesome WordPress Theme: Atahualpa

I just changed the theme of my blog to Atahualpa. I liked it when I first saw it because of the ability to have a rotating roster of random heading images. It’s really cool because it is so configurable that I don’t have to edit the theme files themselves.

The theme comes with some nice images. However, as a photo-phile, I wanted to use my own photos. The challenging part was finding images that I could crop to match the long proportions of the heading images. Once I figured out what I needed to do, I was able to generate more pictures without taking so much time on each photo.

Here are the steps that I have figured out. I used Picasa and Dreamweaver.

  1. In Picasa, look for landscape photos that had the most interesting elements in the horizontal axis.
  2. Select the desired image, File > Save a Copy
  3. Edit the copy, which will have the same filename with -1 appended (skip steps 2 & 3 if you don’t care about saving the original)
  4. Click on I’m Feeling Lucky to see if it improves the look of the picture. If not, undo
  5. Click on Crop and use the Manual option to select a long rectangle that contains the desired content
  6. Click on Preview to see the dimensions of the crop area. This might take experimentation since the size of photos vary but I found that I got good results if the height is no more than twice the max height set for the header image in the theme configurations. This is dependent on the width of the original and the size to which it will be reduced, if at all.
  7. Click Apply once satisfied with the crop area.
  8. File > Export Picture to Folder
  9. Select the desired Resize setting if the original is not the right size
  10. Click Export
  11. A Windows Explorer window should open that contains the new file
  12. In the local copy of the blog, copy or move the file to the folder: wp-content\themes\atahualpa\images\header
  13. In Dreamweaver, select the new file and upload

I hope that helps. It seems complicated with so many steps but after a while it gets easy to do.

Installed Google Friend Connect WordPress Plugin

Google just made the Google Friend Connect API available to developers. What made this interesting was that it would make it easier for site admins/developers to integrate Friend Connect into existing login systems. As a WordPress user, I was excited to see that there was a plugin for my blogging platform of choice. An added bonus was that I knew some of the people involved in the development of the plugin. :)

I wrote that first paragraph with the understanding that readers would know what Friend Connect was and what it was for. However, it is not that widely in use so I can’t expect people to know what it is.

Google Friend Connect provides a simple means of one-click user authentication using a pre-existing Google, Yahoo, AIM, or OpenID account. This means that a user doesn’t need to create a new account for every site that he comes across.

After installing the plugin to enable Friend Connect authentication on my blog, I tried out the Friend Connect sign-in process while I was logged out to see what it would look like to non-admin visitors. I had a few moments of panic after seeing that logging into the Friend Connect system also logged me into my blog. The scary part about that was that I saw a link that said Site Admin, which only I as admin should see. It turned out that I was only logged in as a Subscriber, and the Site Admin showed the dashboard, but only as much as subscribers can see. Basically, regular visitors were not getting admin access. It was a false alarm. I was able to confirm by checking the list of Users and saw my Friend Connect user identity was appropriately marked as Subscriber.

That’s the other cool thing about this plugin; it is able to add users to a website’s database. A couple of weeks ago, I was working on a Friend Connect login solution for Coppermine Photo Gallery but got stuck due to CPG needing database access to the application’s users. If I or any CPG developer can work with the GFC API, we could enable visitors to login with their Friend Connect credentials, and have those accounts create new users in the gallery’s user table in the database.

Feel free to try it out here by logging into Friend Connect to leave a comment. Of course, comments are still open to visitors who are not logged in, but when logged in, you won’t have to enter the usual blog comment form fields.

If you installed the plugin for your site and noticed that the blog looked different in places you did not want it to look different, it is due to some css definitions that the plugin has.  You will need to delete or comment out the unwanted css definitions in fc_plugin.php

Webmaster Tool: Find Sources of 404 Errors

Thanks to Matt Cutts for the heads up on how to use Google Webmaster Tools to get more information on our websites’ 404 File Not Found errors. As the Google Webmaster Central Blog announced: Webmaster Tools shows Crawl error sources.

For those who have not used the diagnostic tools of Webmaster Central, one of the informative features is getting a listing of the urls that resulted in 404 File Not Found errors. Previously, it was an exercise in futily, though, since we did not know where the incorrect link(s) originated. Now, that we know where the sources are, we have a better chance of correcting the links.

When I went to find out what caused my site’s 404 errors, it was pretty enlightening. I found out what appeared to be a hack attempt on my blog. I found some bad urls in the form of takethu.com/blog/page/NUM/?ref=BADSITE.COM. Fortunately, my blog was up-to-date so those urls didn’t do anything malicious nor contain anything bad on the pages. I checked Google’s cache to confirm that there was no spam. However, those results did show up in a Google site search of my blog so I needed to do something to get rid of them. This was what I added in my robots.txt to tell search engines to drop those urls from their indices:

Disallow: /blog/page/*/?ref=*

I love being able to use wildcards in robots.txt. Another nifty tool in Webmaster Tools is “Analyze robots.txt”, which enables testing of robots.txt disallow/allow patterns against actual urls to see if Googlebot will respond to the urls correctly.

Another thing I found was that there was a broken file path for a flash file on my site. Once I found out on what page it occurred, I was able to come up with a solution and fix it.

Thanks to the Google Webmaster Tools team for giving us webmasters such a useful tool.

Why I Left Lunarpages Web Hosting

I really don’t want to be negative toward Lunarpages, but I felt that people need to know what’s going on with Lunarpages to save them from future agony at the hands of a company with poor customer service and that has little respect toward its customers.

I have been a customer since 2003. I left my previous host because I didn’t like having to email someone when I wanted to make changes to my account. Lunarpages used cPanel, which gave me a lot more control over my site. I was really satisfied with them and they were the first paid host I stayed with after leaving two other hosts.

The following year, I discovered and joined their support forum, Lunarforums.com. That was the beginning of a very long and prolific involvement with the community. I enjoyed helping out other users, learning from them, and participating in off-the-wall sometimes inane chats. Their support staff were great, too, with quick response times and competent handling of issues or requests.

Then in the past couple of years, support quality made a noticeable turn for the worse. When I submitted a ticket, I got a request for verification although I had included it in my initial request. The careless reading of the message resulting in me having to go through the queue again. That’s annoying but not horrible. What was horrible was when I requested them to change MX records so I can have my email handled elsewhere and they somehow messed up the settings. That resulted in my email going into a blackhole during the hours after they made the change and before I discovered it. Fortunately, I was able to get quick help from someone outside of the official support system. So that was just one of many examples of why I became hesitant to ever ask for support from their technical support staff. This has been going on for over a year, but it wasn’t enough for me to think about leaving.

A few months ago, they changed their affiliate policy so that people got paid after three sales. (I was going to link to the thread discussing this change in the forums but they either deleted it or moved it to the moderator-only forum). Yes, I was an affiliate since I had really believed in the company and was happy to refer them to others. It didn’t hurt to recoup some money to help pay for hosting. The thing was that I made one sale a year. That would have meant I wouldn’t get paid for three years after the first one went through. It felt like a slap in the face toward people who had been their biggest fans. A lot of people complained about this. Lunarpages refused to listen to feedback. I decided that I wasn’t going to help them make money while I might get a delayed payment or maybe never get it. The incident also reminded me about their declining support quality and I could not in good conscience refer people to them any longer.

The last straw was when it was discovered that Lunarpages had changed the server settings so sites that did not have a custom 404 would display spammy advertisements. Fortunately, I had custom error pages already so this change didn’t affect my site. It did affect me in that I lost trust in Lunarpages. Unlike other big changes they made, there was no announcement. The worse part was that the spammy pages included the domain’s name, as well as a section called the domain’s Favorites which linked to sites like online dating. There was no link for the lost visitor to return to the site. They would only get whisked away to other sites that had nothing to do with the site owner.

In the forum thread that started in response to this change, there was a lot of customer outrage. The reason why people got paid hosting is so we don’t have to put up with advertisements or the host’s intrusion into the site. Lunarpages’ justification for the spam pages was that their free hosting for US K-12 schools was getting expensive so that they wanted to use the money made from customers’ error pages to help pay for costs of the charity program. If one can believe that explanation, it can’t be argued that it’s not noble of them. However, it wasn’t enough to calm down all upset customers. Lunarpages did this behind customers’ backs, and not all customers would have chosen this particular cause, especially those outside the US. I’m for helping to improve the US education system but honestly, is web hosting the answer to helping schools when there are so many other things that could be improved?

Lunarpages started to censor forum posts that questioned what they did. News of this spread around and Lunarpages customers went elsewhere to vent their frustrations since their voices were being silenced by Lunarpages. They even banned longtime and beloved members of the forum.

Web Hosting Forum: Lunarpages client’s 404 error pages issue. The discussion went on for 16 pages. It was closed by a moderator after Lunarpages scrapped the program. It was pretty sketchy to lock the thread. It made it appear as if WHF was either in bed with LP, or in its pocket.

Merlin’s Minute: When a Web Host Goes Bad. Particularly, check out a comment written by a Lunarpages employee, a.ka. LP Fan. It’s not an official proclamation from the company, but it gives insight into the disregard and hostility directed toward their customers possessed by staff.

Unofficial DreamHost Blog: Free Hosting to Lunarpages Refugees. This includes some more details on the fiasco, as well as a screenshot of one of the pages, which had a lot of templates.

DreamHost Web Hosting Blog: Robbing Your Customers. DreamHost offered to give free hosting for a year for Lunarpages refugees. Too bad for me that I had signed up the day before this promo was announced, but I had already saved money from one of their affiliates. As many commenters in the blog post bashed Lunarpages, someone representing LP finally added this:

ok, so here’s the deal. what was well intentioned turned out to be ill thought out. if ANYONE thinks it is sleazy, we want no part of it. It was meant to come out of testing tomorrow and go live with announcements on Friday.The 404 error program has been scraped.

That was good news for customers who were still with LP. However, it’s still a BS answer. We had already told them in the forums that what they did was unethical. It took public shaming outside of their bubble to finally back down. They had never told us that it was a test. Why would they not say that if it were? Since then, there has been no announcement in lunarforums nor the company blog to let people know what they did and to apologize for it. It’s kind of hard to apologize for something when a lot of customers weren’t informed about it.

After all this badness, it worked out well in the end. It made me look around for another host, which turned out to be so much better. With its control panel that was built in-house, I could do even more at DreamHost without having to contact support. Speaking of which, here’s the exchange when I requested LP unlock my domain in order for me to change the nameservers to DreamHost.

From me:

Hello,

Could you please unlock my domain: takethu.com ?

Verification:
{snipped}

Thank you.

Support:

Hello,

Are you trying to transfer your domain, it seems that takethu.com is resolving for me, please shed some light to your query.

Thank you for your time and patience.

Me:

Hello,

I don’t have any issues with the domain. I would like to make a change that requires the domain to be unlocked. I’m sorry, but I don’t see why I need to explain the reason for my request when unlocking a domain is something I can easily do with any other registrar.

Thank you.

Doesn’t that show a quota system that results in people responding with unhelpful replies in order to inflate their numbers? Finally, a veteran staff member unlocked my domain, no questions asked. Despite my unhappiness with current state of Lunarpages support, I still respect the veteran staff members, whose names I am always happy to see in my support tickets because I know they will do things competently.

Whew! I think this is one of the longest posts I’ve written, if not the longest.

BTW, you’ll probably see my DreamHost ads in the sidebar and maybe question my credibility or motives. I didn’t post this to make any sales. I provided information on how to get an even better deal from DreamHost’s promo. :)