Working on the Blog

I’m working on the blog today.  This is a bit different from actual “blogging.”  This task is a bit more like “installation and repair” and not so much “writing and publishing.”

I recently switched from Blogspot to WordPress.  Now I feel like a customer.  I know what it feels like to be a customer, because I’ve purchased and installed software and hardware for years.  I’ve been in the industry long enough to have upgraded products many times over and sometimes I go through the bad experience of trading one “problem” for another.  In the case of Blogger, the text editor is hideous.  The next irritation is the lack of built-in themes.  I’ve gone through the pain of attempting to install a 3rd-party theme into Blogger and that’s not always a successful endeavor.  Eventually, I decided that the pain of switching to another technology was less than the pain of staying and putting up with the problems.  Especially since Google has not upgraded their blog engine since I started using it (it has the feel of a dead or abandoned product).  I understand.  It’s free and it’s not Google’s core business.

I found a few blogging sites that were interesting, but they were expensive.  Then I realized that I could use WordPress on my own website host (GoDaddy .Net host if you’re wondering).  My hosting package is the unlimited plan so I can upload as many pictures as I want.  I figured, if I’m already paying for this, I should use more of it.  So I made the plunge.

I found a WordPress theme that was very clean and I found a plug-in that performs syntax highlighting.  The highlighting plug-in does not produce the correct colors for C#, but I think I can tweak the CSS when I get some time.  I also discovered that I can import Blogger formatted export files.  I imported all of my posts from Blogger.  I have been going through these and cleaning up the formatting snafus (like huge blank spaces, teeny-tiny text, etc.).  I’ll release these posts as I get time to clean them up.  My Blogspot site will remain active forever (unless Google gets frugal and decides to remove it).

Then the shininess started to wear off.  I like WordPress for my blog.  I’ll be staying right here, but I still have a few issues to resolve.  I have some minor issues like the syntax highlighting.  I finally found a plug-in to handle the email subscriptions.  For those who are looking for that feature, you’ll see it in the comments section (to see comments, click the blog header, scroll to the bottom, then put your cursor in the comment text box to see the subscription check boxes) or at the bottom of the page.  Next, I’ll need to install a backup package.  Then there’s Analytics…

I’ve used Google Analytics for years.  I’ve written APIs to pull massive amounts of data from Analytics, so I know how it’s all structured.  I just added another Analytics tracking property setting and obtained another ID from my current account.  Then I added the tracking JS to the header of my wordpress account.  That gets things started, but it’s not quite what I need.  At least I have an idea of the total traffic going to my url (which is blog.frankdecaire.com).  What I don’t have is the kind of tracking data that Blogspot has.  Not that Blogspot had a lot of data, because it was lacking as well.  One of my missing metrics is how many people are hitting each blog article, but there are WordPress plug-ins that I might try (though I’m not sure they are geared for a blog setup).  I can also tweak the JS to insert some meta-data into the Analytics tracking code so I can sort by blog post.

Added Features

So far today, I added a plug-in called Jetpack.  So far, this seems like a very nice plug-in.  Technically, I just installed it and have only looked at a few features.  There’s a feature to click a “like” button.  I use Facebook just like most people do, so I like that feature (no pun intended).  Please feel free to click the like button if you enjoyed reading one of my blog posts.  The number of likes on a post can drive the subjects that I steer towards and it’s a bit more relevant than the Google Analytics report of how many people landed on a subject from a search engine.  Plus, you might come to my blog from a saved link and scroll down to a subject you really like and I don’t get that information in Analytics.

The Jetpack plug-in also has the subscription check boxes.  I have been asked about my email subscription controls by people at my workplace and also a person who commented on this blog.  As I mentioned above, the comments only show up if you are in the article.  So click on the article title, then scroll to the bottom.  When you put your cursor in the text of the comment, two check boxes will appear just below the comment box.  One check box allows you to receive emails when posts are created or updated.  The other allows you to follow updates to the current comments (so you can leave a comment and get a notification when someone replies to you).  You’ll receive a confirmation email when you subscribe, so keep an eye out for that.  You need to leave a comment in order for the check-box to work.

There is also a subscribe section that appears at the very bottom where you can type in your email address and subscribe to the blog:

blog_subscribeNow I can check that task off my list!

I have provided sharing links.  Two sets of sharing links, to be exact: One is used by Jetpack and the other is from another plug-in called “Social” and it has more share sites available:

social_buttonsI have not tested either one of these plug-ins, so if you have issues, please leave me a comment or send me an email.  I’m not sure how important these are for my followers.

There’s a CSS link available.  I provide that primarily for myself.  My website uses the CSS link to display the top posts:

latest_blog_postsI wrote some C# code to look for the blog titles:

List latestBlogPosts = new List();

string url = "http://blog.frankdecaire.com/feed"; 
XDocument feed = XDocument.Load(url);

SyndicationFeed sf = SyndicationFeed.Load(feed.CreateReader());
if (sf != null)
{
    int totalPosts = 0;
    foreach (SyndicationItem si in sf.Items)
    {
	    latestBlogPosts.Add(new BlogPostModel
	    {
		    Title = si.Title.Text,
		    Url = si.Links[0].Uri.AbsoluteUri.Replace("#comment-form", "")
		});

		totalPosts++;

	    if (totalPosts > 8)
	    {
		    break;
	    }
    }
}

I pass the results in a viewbag variable and display on the view (in case you’re interested in the technical details of this “miraculous” piece of code… LOL).

Pros and Cons

One of the pros of maintaining a blog on Blogspot is that Google maintains the data forever.  I’m hosting this blog.  What that means is that “if” my financial situation goes South for any reason, or something happens to me (like I win the lottery and move to the beach), the information on Blogspot will remain.  My GoDaddy host would be expired if I don’t pay the annual fee (though technically, I pay for multiple years to save money).  I know that it is very annoying to find the right subject in a Google search only to arrive at a broken link.  So the minimum requirement is that I maintain my domain names.  This allows me to move to any other host and the search engine links will always be valid.

Another pro is that the using Blogspot means I don’t have to worry about backups, upgrades, installations, etc.  I currently have a WordPress update and a couple of plug-in updates that are bugging me.  I can’t do the WordPress update until I have my backup plug-in working (next on my list).

I have listed a few Cons of Blogspot above.  Many of the Cons are due to the fact that I have less control over the blog itself when I’m using Blogspot.  Let’s face it, Blogspot was created for the masses.  Individuals with little to no computer knowledge can use Blogspot right out of the box without knowing what the word “host” means (that was actually appealing to me too).  I, however, have no such excuse.  If I didn’t know how to setup a host, WordPress or any of this technology, then I would have no credibility in writing blog posts under the subjects that I write about.  I have maintained a website and host since the mid-90’s.

If you’re setting up a new WordPress blog and you’re a technical guru like me, then I would recommend the following blog article for customizing: How to Customize WordPress (Step-by-Step).  I found it to be very helpful.  There is a lot of information on the subject.

Purpose of my Blog

I’m sure I’ve talked about this before, but I’ll describe my purpose in blogging again.  Initially I intended to use the blog format to contain information that I learned about subjects that I struggled to find a solution.  I figured, if I did it before, then I can always look up the information in my own blog.  It’ll be on-line, so I don’t have to worry about hauling around a thumb-drive or notepad of my notes.  It took me a couple of years to overcome my fear of posting something that might not be “perfect.”  I finally took the plunge and it was a bit of a rocky start.  Getting acclimated to creating, editing and posting took a lot of practice.  Now I know what writers mean when they talk about writing a lot of short-stories just to get used to writing.  Blogging works the same way.

As of this post, I’ve been blogging since April of 2012, which is almost 5 years.  Some years have been better than others as you can tell if you look at the total posts for each month or year from my old blog:

blog_archiveI anticipate that this year will be a heavy posting year again (This will be my 5th post!).  My blog is still used by me to contain subjects that I might use as reference, but I also enjoy sharing information that is difficult to find on the web.  My most recent subject and resurrected hobby involves digital logic and home-brew computers.  In case you’ve never visited my website, I built a single-board computer from chips a long time ago:

8085_cpu_topThis hobby took a back-seat when I graduated from college and I recently stumbled across an article about a guy who built a computer out of tens of thousands of transistors.  Which brought my interest back.  That’s where my current cache of subjects are coming from… my hobby.

As I’m alluding to, it’s sometimes difficult to produce blog posts for this type of blog because I run into subject block.  This is similar to writer’s block, except it’s just a lack of interest in subjects that I am qualified to blog about.  Some of these subjects are technologies that I use at work.  Since I spend all day on these tasks at work, I’m ready to think about something else on my weekends.  I have a list of potential blog subjects that I use to jog my memory of what I should blog about.  That can be a good crutch in instances where I have time to blog, but can’t think of a specific subject.  Sometimes, I get into what my wife calls a blog funk.  That’s where I would like to blog, but I don’t want to spend time setting up the software to get the screenshots and code-snippets to create the blog post.  So I spend my time on something non-blog related.

The bottom line is that I’m blogging for me.  I don’t have any advertising on this site and I don’t intend to get paid to blog.  So don’t expect to see pop-ups or annoying animations along the sides of the blog.  I find those to be very distracting and I don’t expect anyone to have to suffer through that onslaught just to consume some technical information that I posted.

If you have a blog story you would like to share, feel free to post in the comments, or leave a link to your blog.

 

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