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Sites outage – confession of a silly dev

June 18, 2018 in bugs by Matthew Brown

Hands up here, the outage of all sites was my fault. If you are interested, this post will look at what went wrong and how it was fixed.

How the outage happened

Author Buzz is set up on a secure dedicated server. The domains are registered with a trustworthy registrar and will need to be renewed in another year or so. Everything is handled in-house and the only dev with root level access is me.

In theory, nothing can possibly go wrong.

Except, it did.

You see I had missed one tiny part of the chain – DNS. DNS is this fiddly thing that makes domain names and websites work. The specific DNS config for Author Buzz is what allows the WordPress setup to provide vanity web names like matthewdbrown.authorbuzz.co.uk or dev.authorbuzz.co.uk.

To keep things “clean” I used another domain name for the name server. The name server has worked flawlessly. However, I registered this other name a while ago. Long enough ago that my debit cards all expired and were replaced. So when the trustworthy registrar tried their best to renew the name server domain, guess what happened?

Yeah, you guessed it. The bank – quite rightly – refused to let that happen. Expired cards should not be used to facilitate payments. That is why cards expire in the first place.

How I fixed the outage

In many post-disaster reviews, this section might have a lot of technical details. However, the fix was really simple – I whipped out my card and paid for the renewal.

That gives me a full year to figure out if I can set things up with slightly fewer moving parts. It was a silly mistake and I feel very silly for having let it happen.

What I learned from the outage

This outage taught me one thing – you only need to overlook one thing for everything to come crashing down for a while. If anything this has increased the respect I feel for the devs that run Twitter and generally keep everything online. Likewise, the mavericks that innovate online technology businesses.

I am definitely open to partnering up with others to deliver our vision of a launching pad for UK writers. If only because with more of us on the project, there are more of us ready to catch silly mistakes like that one.

And on that note, I think it is time for me to stop beating myself up and go and put the kettle on.

GDPR – Privacy and Data laws

June 2, 2018 in progress by Matthew Brown

GDPR is something that we bloggers need to take seriously. At Author Buzz, we’ve been looking at options to help our members comply with the new rules.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will be enforced from May next year, requiring all organisations that handle EU residents’ data to abide by its strict terms. As Brexit has not yet happened. British blogs still need to undertake this process.

While the JetPack cookie notification widget will probably cover your GDPR requirements, I felt that a stronger effort than “probably” was called for.

Which is why we have installed a dedicated GDPR plugin. I’m currently testing it out in order to write a full guide for the Author Buzz blog.

To use, simply activate the GDPR plugin and then fill out the details. If you are unsure which external sites you might be sending data to the plugin can profile your blog. It’d be best not to leave it profiling too long as that will slow things down. The chances are that you will only be using JetPack and maybe an anti-spam service.

GDPR compliance with your blog is the responsibility of the blog owner. While there is every chance you could get away without doing anything I strongly recommend that you at least have a written privacy policy.

For more on what the GDPR means and what you need to do to comply, try this blog post.

Tiny MCE and BBPress bug

May 20, 2018 in bugs by Matthew Brown

I guess I spoke too soon. The update seems to have had a very strange side effect – BBPress’ WYSIWYG editor has stopped working.

I noticed a bug report from one of our members this evening. They were reporting that the forums were being squiffy. I was going to reply with a  “thanks but I have not seen any such bug” when the same thing happened for me too. It seemed that the visual editor was not passing anything to the text version (which is what is actually submitted).

As BBPress runs the forums and is part of all the user groups, this was a pretty big deal.

I wondered if perhaps it was a double JQuery include issue and wrote a filter to dequeue JQuery and then enqueue using the Google CDN. That was a good thing to do for speed but it did not solve my problem. Probably because JQuery was not the problem, to begin with.

As far as I can tell this was either the Tiny MCE update that got pushed with the last update or something equally stupid that I just have not been able to see.

The net result is that I had to take away the nice UI for adding content to the forums because it was broken.

I have no officially Googled every version of the console error messages, descriptions of the problem, and version numbers involved that I can think of. I’ve not found so much as a sniff of another person reporting this problem.

If you need me, I will be taking a nice relaxing break to headbutt a wall or something. Grrr…

Updates to WordPress

May 19, 2018 in progress by Matthew Brown

This is not going to be a particularly interesting late night blog post as all I did was back stuff up and run some updates.

Things updated

For anyone that cares, there were some updates and I applied them.

  • WordPress core updated to the latest version
  • 11 Themes updated

I can imagine that there will be plugins asking to be updated as authors realise that they need to acknowledge the latest version. Yay, late night updates…

Backing stuff up

In a rather boring move, I backed everything up prior to running the update. Nothing went wrong aside from the small fact that it took ages.

That was my fault. I just grabbed the public HTML folder and downloaded it via FTP. It was only after it stared that I realised I could have skipped the media folders and the cache files. Doh.

I also pulled a copy of the database but remembered to optimise the tables first. To be fair, the tables were fairly optimal so all that did was make the indexes a touch smaller. Hardly earth-shattering stuff.

Let me know if anything behaves oddly but I expect that you will not actually notice any difference.

Redesigning Author Buzz UK

April 9, 2018 in progress by Matthew Brown

Author Buzz UK is to get a whole new look.

I posted recently about creating a WordPress Theme Framework. The idea is that it should be something that can be used as a foundation to build author-centric themes for WordPress.

As I said in my last post, I am not a natural designer. This design lark is hard for me. However, let me talk you through what we have planned.

Community first approach.

Our current design, attractive though it is, presents the main blog first and hides the community on other pages. With our new design, the news feed will be front and centre. That means that the things you say and do and share will become our new front page content.

Hopefully, this will increase traffic and attention for our members. It will do this in two ways.

First, visitors to the site will see what you are sharing when they first arrive. That means it will be faster and easier to find things that interest you. If your content is interesting to the site’s visitors then your content is what they will go and look at. That was always what we wanted, so this is something we are quite excited about.

Second, by putting your content front and centre search engines, like Google, will find your content and your profile more easily. This should result in your profiles and your blog posts benefiting from search traffic. Of course, your content still needs to be interesting and relevant but we will have done our part by getting out of the way and letting your work speak for itself.

Built for reading.

We will be taking the best practices established by far smarter people than me and applying it to the readability of the site. That means focusing on the words per line, line height, font choices, and other factors that impact readability ion different screens.

If we get things right, and I am doing my best to make that happen, Author Buzz will be easy to read and easy to use.

Built for speed.

The new look will be crafted from our new framework to be as fast as humanly possible. That means creating a theme that is good only for the main site. By doing that we can reduce the amount of work the theme has to do to work out what it needs to know.

Normally, a theme starts by making no assumptions about the blog it will be presenting. What we can do in this case, is make a lot of safe assumptions because we know exactly what it is presenting and how. that simplifies a lot of the page presentation process which can be optimised for the cache system right out of the gate.

Furthermore, we can plan a lot more “static” content which, again, will be faster.

A bit of a headache for me.

If you were wondering why all of the blogs I write for have had fewer posts, this new update is why.

It turns out that designing a whole theme framework is hard enough but taking the responsibility for making sure so many moving parts move together, well, that is a lot of work. Don’t get me wrong, as a development geek I am enjoying this work but it is far from quick to get done.

I am sure our beta testers will report a whole new collection of fun bugs for me to squash when we are ready to transition over.

I better get back to it.

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