Moving domains to Google

I started out getting my domains from InterNIC way back in the 1990s, when they were $50/year.  That later was scaled back to $35/year but was still pricey.  And, it was still a monopoly.

Once the monopoly was busted, I went with a registrar which used services from Tucows. It worked well, but it always required a prepayment; you could never have them charge a debit or credit card on file.

Due to cost, I ended up moving domains slowly over to GoDaddy.  Despite the fact that their site can be quite spammy during the checkout process, and navigation can sometimes run you in circles, I saved quite a bit of money.  Others have had issues with them but in my case, it was all pretty much easy to work with, and I never had a major issue.

About two years ago, they offered a free upgrade for domain privacy–your domain’s details would show through a proxy, as opposed to revealing your name, address and contact details to the public.  Well, the free ride on privacy only lasted a year, so I ended up having to bounce back and forth from a third party site just to get them all cancelled.

On top of it, GoDaddy quit giving discounts for renewals like they used to.  Not only that, they were adding some sort of “ICANN fee” to each domain, rather than just bury it within the cost.  A minor issue but still, I don’t know of any other registrar itemizing that line item as they do.

Enter Google Domains.  After doing some research, I found that most of my domains would transfer over for a flat $12/year.  Not a spectacular deal, but privacy is free.  So as each batch of domains has come up, I have been switching over.  Since I use Google Apps for email services on a lot of my domains, this actually may work out a bit easier.  And they have made the transfer process as simple as possible.

By the end of the year, everything should be transferred over.  There are other registrars out there, but I recommend giving Google Domains a glance before registering elsewhere, even if just for the free domain privacy service.

 

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RSS feeds in WordPress not updating?

While trying to use RSS feeds in WordPress, I noticed that a forum I was referencing in the RSS feed was not having posts updated in my WP sidebar.  The feed itself is good (you can check by viewing it in View Source), so I knew the problem was in WordPress.

As I always use child themes, I simply added the following code to functions.php within the child theme I had the problem with:

add_filter( 'wp_feed_cache_transient_lifetime', create_function('$a', 'return 1800;') );

That did the trick.  The “1800” is seconds, so you can adjust that for your needs. With a busy forum, I would want that to be much more frequent.  Likewise, news updates from other RSS feeds are now freshened regularly, so our site does not look stale.

Original tip here:  http://www.newtotheweb.net/2009/10/25/rss-widget-doesnt-update .

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Five arguments against the Internet Archive

Internet ArchiveWhile helping a friend with his web site, we made small talk about certain information he had displayed that he wished he had never made public.  While removing it from his site was the first order of business, I also presented the idea of making sure the old versions were not living anywhere else on the Internet…namely, at the Internet Archive.

For those unaware, the Internet Archive is an archive of a large portion of the World Wide Web from across the years.  It is accessed at http://archive.org, and you use their Wayback Machine with a site’s original URL to locate snapshots of that site from months and years past.  Granted, much of the archived material is broken (images are often not available, and anything like scripting does not make the translation), but there is usually enough meat there to find what you are looking for.

For blocking the Internet Archive from spidering a site and taking snapshots, you simply upload a robots.txt file to the root of your site which disallows access to the selected directories, or the entire site, using the following:

User-agent: ia_archiver
Disallow: /

Simple!  Your site will no longer be spidered, and any existing archive material will not be displayed either.  (It is unknown whether or not they delete what is there, or simply block it.)

What really got under my skin, though, was the attitude of some commenters about robots.txt.  Some are complaining about us “evil webmasters” destroying the archives of the Internet one site at a time.  Some go even further, as though they demand the right to anything archived.  Here is a quote from one of those posts to which I refer:

Honestly, half of the internet is being missed because some honest do-gooder decided that the garbage that is robots.txt should be followed by this archival service. This needs to stop.

The wayback machine is exempt from copyright issues under fair use doctrine and due to its educational purpose.

Please stop ignoring website because of ignorant, uninformed, or possessive webmasters.

This seems to be typical of Internet mentality today.  What’s yours is mine, and I have every right to use it for any purpose whatsoever.  Oh, and all the hate spewed through insults?  Nice touch.  Comments like this simply come across as being stupid.

I won’t get into the gross cluelessness of this particular person about the function that robots.txt serves, nor his/her unabashed hatred towards us “ignorant, uninformed [and] possessive” publishers.  But I will touch on other issues regarding the Archive itself.  Here are FIVE arguments I have against the Internet Archive.

  1. Site owners and operators create sites to dispense timely, relevant information.  It is up to us to control how it is presented, and where.  We frequently update or remove content for valid reasons, especially when information becomes outdated and stale, or is deemed to be inaccurate or irrelevant.  We crack down on unauthorized usage, while at the same time enable proper channels so the content can be shared properly.  Our information is not a free-for-all, and our sites are presented in the here-and-now, timely and relevant.  Allowing past copies of our sites does more harm than good; we have our own “archives” which visitors are more than welcome to browse…on our terms, not a third party’s.
  2. Some Internet users, especially those who *cough* “borrow” *cough* content from other sites, automatically hide behind the concept of “fair use,” claiming that such usage is for “educational” purposes.  They clearly have no understanding of what “fair use” actually means, and use it as a broad paintbrush to cover their unauthorized activities.  To them, their line of thinking is, “I’m not making money from it, therefore it is ‘fair use’.”  The Internet Archive really does nothing more than perpetuate this misguided thinking, and provides an endless source for such content.
  3. I feel that the Internet Archive should not be exempt from copyright laws.  Of all the sites I have created or maintained over the years, I have never once given them the explicit permission to use my content, nor has anyone else to my knowledge. Some content I may donate if asked, and be glad to do so.  Otherwise, no.
  4. For security and privacy reasons, there are perfectly valid reasons a page, directory or entire site may need to be removed from the archive.  Many busy site publishers may have created dozens of sites over the years, and (present company included) it is possible to overlook some of the earliest.
    I found an archive page from one of my sites that was chock full of email addresses, personal names, and even some street addresses, as part of an Internet guestbook hosted on one of my sites.  Do I care if this is public?  Yes.  Not so much for myself, but for the visitors who trusted me to keep their information secure.  Back in 1995, we never had the concerns we do now about privacy and security concerns.  Yes, we were all naive.  But when my visitors applauded my reasoning behind deleting the page, it is not fair to them to have that same page perpetually and publicly stored without either their or my consent.
  5. Finally, I feel that the Wayback Machine should be strictly an opt-in service, not an entity that simply grabs anything it finds and stores it.  I did not give permission for any of my copyrighted work to be accessed and stored elsewhere.   I am surprised they have not yet been sued.  There really is no reason for archiving the entire Internet if you think about it.  Most of it is outdated anyway, and most pages and sites are broken anyway.

While the Internet Archive itself may be a worthy cause for archiving some types of content, many of us out here would appreciate it if the Wayback Machine would simply go away.  Or at the very least, let us opt in to be archived, as opposed to having it taken from us.

 

 

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How Comcast/Xfinity drove a customer away…

Back in July, I got tired of the rising rates at AT&T for Uverse Internet service, and they had no enticing deals to make me stay.  With that in mind, I shopped the competition.  Of the deals out there, Comcast’s Xfinity broadband service had a $29.95 deal for 25Mbps Internet.  Pretty good, and it was a one-year offer.

Thing is, I’d had bad experiences with Comcast in the past, including trying to send me to collections for a Comcast-owned modem which I had returned right to their office.  It took the intervention of the MPSC to smack them down and get them to credit my account.

Still, I was willing to take the chance.  Maybe I’ll give them a chance again.

With that in mind, choice made, I clicked on “Checkout” on their site.  And that started a nearly six week ordeal.

First, I had gone through checkout, and placed my order.  I’d locked in the $29.95 rate, with no installation fee, and while I was not fond on what they called an “installation kit” for $10, I figured it had some sort of activation code I needed to enter in order to get my home hooked up to their network.

Now with most deals like this, you get a courtesy phone call a day or so later, with the premise of setting an appointment for someone to come out and hook up their service to your building.  So I waited.  And waited.  Maybe 10 days later, nothing.  The installation kit did arrive (more on that below), but the short version is, nobody ever called to set up an appointment.

Arguably, one could say that my first mistake was typing in the Comcast URL to get service!  But perhaps it should have been evident from my first contact with “customer service”.  After spending a bit of time via their online chat, they came to the conclusion that I needed to speak with a technician.  Which I finally did.

Looking at the account, the tech noted that I was indeed set up for self install, but the account was cancelled since I did not connect to their network.  I mentioned that this would be rather difficult since there is no connection from the building to their connection out at the utility pole. He mentioned that their records showed my location was “self-install ready”.  Now, think about the logic here:  of all the myriad wires tacked onto this house over the past couple of decades, how am I to have any idea which of these might have belonged to Comcast at one point or another?  Not only that, shortly after moving in, I had cut down two coaxial wires running from the pole which were laying on top of the garage roof, which is against our local electrical code.  As I never had “cable TV”, I knew it would affect nothing.

So, back to my tech buddy.  He is in the middle of typing in my new order, when the line goes dead.  Calling back, of course I cannot reach anyone who even knows a person with this same first name.  So I end up having to explain everything all over again, and finally get an order entered.  I am given a date when they’ll arrive.

Naturally, that date comes and goes, and I still have no service.  I call again.  The order has again been cancelled since “Nobody was home at the time.”  Bullshit.  I specifically rearranged an entire day’s work so I could be around to answer the door.  Not only that, since it was simply an installation from utility pole to the house, nobody even needed to be around.

In the meantime, I had received a new billing notice.  It showed a completely different monthly rate, and of course had the installation fee and installation kit being tacked on.  Yet another session on chat to get it sorted.  (And I’ll comment on these chats later as well.)

So, I reschedule it again, this time with the assurance that it’s all straightened out.  The appointment is for a Thursday.  No show, again.  No phone call, again.  Do I call?  No.  I’m curious to see how long this will take.  I wait.  Friday.  Saturday, Sunday, Monday…onward until Friday, and not one word, and no technician.  Friday evening, I’m looking at the website for their competitor, WOW.  Of course, I need to type in an address before I can get a rate, but no big deal, the site tells me to call.  Screw it.  I’ll wait until next week.

Saturday around noon, walking up my driveway is a salesman for WOW.  They’d gotten my address from the site, and sent him out.  15 minutes later, I had a signed deal:  $30/month flat rate for one year, faster service (30Mbps vs. 25Mbps), and he promised a tech would be out on Monday.  Less than 48 hours later, the tech pulls away in his truck, and my new Surfboard modem is lit up happily with Internet service.  And my phone is also lit up, happily telling AT&T to disconnect their overpriced line from my account.

Of course, during that week of waiting, I receive yet another billing notification from Comcast, with still a different rate and added fees.  Once I got on chat, again, the day I connected with WOW, I pretty much told them I wanted everything cancelled.  No problem!  In fact, that was the only thing they did right in this whole affair!

Still steaming a bit, I found the email address for a vice president at Comcast, who was not only in charge of the customer service experience, he promised that they were doing everything to ensure the customer was given a favorable experience.  I let loose.  Politely of course.  I simply outlined all of my ordeals in dateline fashion, and expressed my disappointment alongside my promise that I would never do business with them again.

Will it do any good?  It’s doubtful.  But by the same token, until consumers start utilizing these avenues for feedback, there is no way the company will ever know where service needs improving.  And complaints should not be crowdsourced from the Internet, where the mob mentality tends to drag things down into rude and insulting behavior.  This is a business you are dealing with, and working with them in a calm and professional manner is the only way you will gain their attention and respect.

So anyway, there were many failures in this example.  The worst failure was in communication.  Even when I signed up for AT&T DSL about four years ago, my checkout process included a reminder that I would be called by a technician to complete the order.  And it actually happened.  They returned the call within hours of my signing up, and we were good to go.

When you complete the Comcast checkout process, you are left hanging.  You receive a “thank you,” and you get a confirmation of shipment for the installation kit, but that’s it.  There needs to be some communication regarding the next step.  Ever go to a site, sign up, and see a “What’s next?” page?  Comcast needs this.

In addition, communication falters when you deal with offshored customer service personnel.  This has long been a sore spot with me.  I feel that companies who do business in a country should staff their customer sevice and technical support in that same country.  All you essentially get through Comcast’s chat are off-shored agents who spend their time apologizing (“Sorry for the delay,” “Sorry you are having a problem,” etc.), while translating our complaints into Punjabi so they can look up the appropriate response from their scripts.  Sad.

When I did reach a tech in the US, at least I did not have a language barrier.  But internally, it was obvious Comcast has an internal communications error.  One department has no clue what the other department has done.  I feel that any person in the company should be able to look up my order, see exactly what steps were taken, and light a fire under the appropriate parties to correct things and make them right.  Yet nobody was able to do that (and I was told as much).  Everything is so compartmentalized that their service and support personnel cannot reach out beyond their departments to help us fully and completely.

As for the added fees, those are debatable. I can see a provider charging me to install outlets inside the building.  (Which is normally just drilling a hole and shoving a wire through it, sadly.)  The installation kit was one such expense that supplied nothing of value–it included two coaxial cables, a splitter, and a bag of wire clips (which you use to tack a coaxial cable to another surface).  Items I already own, in spades.  There was no activation code, no appointment reminder, nothing other than a welcome pamphlet.  This should be an option at checkout, not a requirement.  Most who already have the cable modem are already set up with the wiring.

Overall, Comcast could stand to get their communications sorted out, and actually follow through on appointments.  I spent over five weeks since the time I ordered, waiting for a simple hookup from utility pole to the house, and it took a competitor only 48 hours to steal that business away.  I can’t say my trust in Comcast has improved either.  Hard to blame me, no?

In the meantime, WOW’s service has been working just fine here.

 

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404 error while wrapping a page with WordPress

There are time where you have existing pages on a site and want to wrap your WordPress design around that content.  I had a database application in PHP, and was finally able to get it to play nice with my WordPress header and footer.

First problem:  I was using HTTP GET to pass parameters between the pages, but the variables were not being passed.  I had to specifically use PHP’s $_GET[ ] variable to pull them in before validation (to prevent a MySQL injection attack).

Second problem:  the CSS of the theme will overwrite any CSS in the existing page, so some minor rewriting of your page will be necessary. A separate CSS file can then be pulled in per page.

Third problem:  accessing the pages would result in “Page Not Found” as the page title, even though the page was working 100% correctly.  It has to do with WordPress’s handling of content, and your “third party” PHP file is something WordPress does not recognize.  This cool post at cooltrainer.org came up with a clever solution which works perfectly.

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