WordPress 2.0 Final is released

Screenshot of WordPress 2.0 website
The new WordPress website design.

The wait is over: WordPress 2.0 has finally been released. While externally it doesn’t look as though anything has changed an awful lot has been changed behind the scenes. Asymptomatic has blogged about What’s New in WordPress 2.0, and it makes for some impressive reading.

Not content with simply tampering with the WordPress application code, they’ve also gone and redesigned the website, with a new logo and everything:

WordPress logo
The new WordPress logo.

I’m not entirely sure I like the new site design — the previous one was simple and elegant — but I’m sure it will grow on me. There are few bits still broken on the new site, a few places where the sidebar simply says “sidebar” with nothing else in it, and the sign-up for WordPress announcements deposits you at an error page. These problems, I’m sure will be ironed out soon.

One thing I would like to see, for usability sakes, is a clear indication on the downloads page which version is being offered. I know that it says at the top: “Download WordPress 2” but I missed that the first two or three times I visited the page. I was looking for something that said “Current version: 2.0”. Please, folks: don’t make me think, just spell it out for me.

Thankfully WordPress Codex, the online documentation website, appears to have been updated too to cover the new features in WP2.0. I will have some more reading to do particularly on the new Roles and Capabilities which have replaced the User Levels of WP1.2 and WP1.5.

I’ll also have to check out the Plugin Compatibility for my plugins of choice, before I upgrade fully. Much to do …

All I want for Christmas is a new blog …

Screenshot of OpenSourceCMS
The OpenSourceCMS website will allow you to test-drive any of the blogging tools and content management system tools on offer.

It’s getting to that time of the year again and I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Gareth, what’s the best blogging software for me?” Well, have I got good news for you.

I know you’re thinking that because over the last couple of weeks I’ve had quite a few emails from people asking what they need to run their own blog, rather than signing up for one of the free blogging services like Blogger.com or WordPress.com.

I mean, obviously I’m going to recommend WordPress, because I think it’s the best thing since someone invented custard doughnuts, but it’s a free world and you might like something else. But which blogging application do you choose? And how do you know what is available?

The good news is that someone over at OpenSourceCMS has thought about that for you. OpenSourceCMS is like a test-drive centre for a whole bunch of open source (which usually means free to use, free to adapt to your own use) blogging and Content Management System (CMS) tools, such as WordPress, Drupal, Mambo, and PostNuke. You can see how they look, feel and work, both as an end-user and as an administrator.

What’s impressive about OpenSourceCMS is that all the tools on offer automatically reinstall themselves every two hours, so you play with them to your heart’s content in the sure knowledge that every 120 minutes all your tampering will be forgiven and the CMS or blogging tool will be restored to a virgin, sinless existence.

Once you have your blog-of-choice you can then go about setting up your own website and install the blogging software. I won’t go into all the details here, but in a nutshell you’ll want to do the following:

  1. Buy a domain name
    I buy all mine at 123-reg. Very good value, and they offer you a lot of control of it afterwards.
  2. Buy hosting web space (with support for MySQL and PHP)
    I’m with WebFusion, who while not the cheapest are pretty reliable.
  3. (Point your domain name to your web space)
    If you are unsure about doing this bit manually a lot of hosts these days will offer you a ‘free’ domain name as part of the package. The instructions on how to do this at 123-reg are excellent. I’ve not had a problem with setting up 3 or 4 sites.
  4. Create a MySQL database
    MySQL is just the name of a kind of database that is popular with website builders. The database is what stores all your amusing blog posts. You will usually need the database name, database username, database password, and its location (usually localhost).
  5. Upload the blogging/CMS software
    Using the magic of an FTP application, such as WS_FTP.
  6. Install the application
    I can now install WordPress in under 5 minutes, from creating a new MySQL database, through uploading, to running the installation script.

Obviously, each system will have its own peculiarities so make sure you read the installation instructions carefully; there is usually a good user knowledge-base associated with each system too where you can find help and advice. WordPress, for example, has the WordPress Codex (wiki) and WordPress Support (forum).

A lot of blogging tools these days also allow you to customize your site with themes; you can download one that you find, or you can create your own.

Get your site the way you like it, and then it’s over to you, your input devices, your digital camera (optional) and a healthy dose of imagination, creativity and humour. The world of blogging is only a mildly-geeky hop, skip and an upload away.

New Theme-ish

Screenshot of the new blog theme
How the full MX4 theme looks on this blog, before I returned to a modded version of Kubrick.

I decided to have a bit of a change, and downloaded and installed the MX4 theme, and what a lovely theme it is too. My only gripe, however, was that the MX4 theme is only 560 pixels wide, while the default Kubrick is 760 pixels. Like myself, I prefer the wider blog … so in the meantime I’ve just gone back to Kubrick and am using the header image from MX4, which is great.

The graphic especially makes me laugh, particularly given that my blog is called “View from the Potting Shed”. I love that the shed in the image is up a tree. I always wanted a tree-house when I was a kid, we had to make do with a windowless “gang hut” made from scraps of wood, plasterboard nails ‘borrowed’ from a neighbours greenhouse (I kid you not!) and a large sheet draped over it to make it a little more waterproof (!).

Why “View from the Potting Shed”? I came up with the whole Potting Shed thing years and years ago. It’s what I wrote on the back of all my homemade cards and drawings. We didn’t have a traditional shed, just an outhouse, and Dad also promised us that we’d get one, which I thought was cool (we were easily pleased in those days). I always associated potting sheds with places that mad professors would invent cool stuff. So I created my own Potting Shed brand, to mark the stuff that I created. So now you know!

The day the SEC website lost its mind

Broken lightbulb

Today I met with The Revd Canon Cliff Piper, a friend from my days in The United Diocese of Moray, Ross and Caithness, and the convenor of the Information and Communication Board of the SEC to teach him how to use and update the SEC website. It was great to catch up with Cliff, and I gave him a full behind-the-scenes low-down on how the website works and how to add and edit posts, upload images and all that jazz. But the day didn’t exactly begin quite so well.

I decided that it would be better if we worked on a mirror copy of the website on another server, rather than on the actual SEC website. That way if things went wrong it wouldn’t matter. So I backed up the database, backed up the files, and then uploaded WordPress to another server and created a new database. That all went well, no problems there.

I then restored the backed-up SEC website database to the new mirror server. And somewhere in the process of updating the options on the mirror site my poor browser got confused and updated the actual site. (Are you following me so far?) The result was that the actual SEC website now thought it was on the mirror server!

We’re talking serious problems here. We’re talking a website with a bit of a mental illness: all the physical files were in place and looked fine, but somehow the website’s ‘mind’ (the database) was all messed up!

That shouldn’t be a problem! I should just be able to restore the backed-up database. Except that Lumison, the web host that the SEC website is stored on, doesn’t use a user-friendly MySQL database management tool like phpMyAdmin. Instead they prefer you to use SSH Shell access, in other words you text type commands into a black screen to connect to a remote computer.

Thankfully, in my Geek Kit™ I have a copy of PuTTY, a client program for the SSH, Telnet and Rlogin network protocols. Here is a screenshot of it, in all its glory:

Screenshot of PuTTY SSH client
Screenshot of PuTTY SSH client.

Exciting stuff! And oh so simple to use!? It took me a couple of goes, but I eventually managed to login to the Lumison shell server (shell.lumison.net) and then login to their MySQL server and restore the backup database file, writing over the dodgy info with good, clean, newly-backed-up data, using this memorable command-line:

mysql -h mysqlhostserver -u mysqlusername -p databasename < public_html/backup/sec.sql

(The names of real passwords, usernames and locations have been changed to protect the innocent.) Always handy to know how to do these things.

Now that the real website was working fine, returning to my mirror site I logged into the MySQL database using phpMyAdmin — which my fine server host offers — and I manually edited the database, ready for Cliff and I to play around with it. And I made sure that the real SEC website was open in Firefox and the mirrored site in Opera. I sure didn’t want to get my poor browsers confused again.

It was a good idea, a shame that I broke it!

When anti-spam tools attack!

412 Precondition Failed error message
The error message I kept seeing whenever I’d try to access my blog.

Despite all my protests to the contrary, it would appear that I’m a spammer. How do I know? Well, the Bad Behaviour anti-spam plugin for WordPress (the software that powers my blog) told me so this evening.

No matter what browser I used (Firefox, Opera, IE) I would still get the same error message, a “412 Precondition Failed”.

I began to panic. The blurb beneath the error title told me that

To resolve this problem, please try the following steps:

  • Ensure that your computer is free of viruses, Trojan horses, spyware or any other sort of malicious software…

So I cracked open a copy of Ad-Aware SE Personal, and when that refused to update I really began to worry. (That’s often a ploy of malware like viruses and spyware, to make sure you can’t update your anti-virus or -spyware software to get rid of it.)

Plan B: Spybot: Search & Destroy which updated and ran fine. Found some cookies that Ad-Aware SE had missed, too. But no joy, I still couldn’t connect to my blog.

I then got thinking, and checked a couple of other WordPress-enabled sites on my server. Odd, I could connect to them. So why not my blog? And then it dawned on me. Perhaps I was being blocked, for some reason, by the Bad Behaviour anti-spam plugin. I fired up my FTP client (WS_FTP Professional 2006) and renamed the bad-behaviour folder and lo-and-behold! that fixed it.

I checked out the Bad Behaviour documentation, and look:

In extremely rare circumstances, Bad Behavior may block actual human visitors. Bad Behavior was designed to target robots, not people. If this happens, the profile presented by your browser matched that seen from actual malicious robots. In most cases, this is caused by over-aggressive personal firewall/browser privacy software. In some cases, this is caused by improperly configured Web proxy server software.

It’s all a bit of a mystery, to be honest. (Maybe this post will help explain it.) But at least

  1. I can now access my blog, having added my own IP address to the Bad Behaviour whitelist, and
  2. I know that Bad Behaviour does its job.

I’m quite relieved I’m not a spammer, after all. Imagine all the self-hatred I’d have to put up with, not to mention the boxes of viagra and Texas Hold ‘Em Poker (can you buy poker in boxes?) that I’d have to store at Potting Shed HQ!

Update: 00:05
I’ve done some investigating, from the bad behaviour logs in my MySQL database and it appears that the problems first began with “Required header ‘Accept’ missing” HTTP error 403 at 18:25:42 this evening from a browser that identified itself as “Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; Synapse)” which according to this list is a bot.

Now, this evening at about that time I was writing a review of Evrsoft’s First Page 2006, but as far as I can recall I didn’t try to connect to my blog through it. I can’t think of anything else that I used that it might be.