Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Deprecated Code - Why You Should Avoid It

If you're perusing one of my articles on blog coding, for instance Centering Complex and Multiple Objects, and you follow my advice to read the W3 Schools tutorials for further advice, you'll find a lot to read. They give you good canonical definitions of each HTML tag, and interactive exercises so you can see what each one actually does.

If you're reading about the <center> tag, you'll note the advice
The center element was deprecated in HTML 4.01.
The center element is not supported in XHTML 1.0 Strict DTD.

If you're not blocking popups from http://www.w3schools.com, you'll note a popup window advising you that
A deprecated element or attribute is one that has been outdated.
Deprecated elements may become obsolete in the future, but browsers should continue to support deprecated elements for backward compatibility.

In other words, you can keep using <center> ... </center> right now, but one day in the future, it may stop working. No guarantee when, either.

In HTML, an element is deprecated only when there is a replacement for it. In this case, this is a good replacement. The <center> ... </center> tags are known to display differently in Firefox and Internet Explorer.

For <center> ... </center>, you're advised
Use CSS styles to center text!

I use
<span style="text-align:center;"> ... </span>
to center text, for instance. You can use the
<span> ... </span>
pair within a paragraph, or wherever else convenient. And if you want to center graphic objects, or multiple text objects, relative to each other, you can use nested tables.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Centering Complex and Multiple Objects

HTML, which is what blogs and other websites are coded with, is great for displaying text in a simple layout. It's just like typing - what you type is displayed in paragraphs, cleanly and neatly laid out, with line breaks automatically inserted.

This blog uses a fluid template, and the columns automatically resize themselves as you narrow or widen the browser window. Check it out - grab the side of the browser window, and pull it in or out (if it's not maximised on your screen, that is). See the columns, like the posts column, narrow or widen? See the text, and the end of lines, change on the fly? That's HTML in action, in a fluid template. And that's a problem, sometimes, with HTML in action.

HTML is not so great for displaying objects, displayed with other objects. Displays written around HTML have to flow - horizontally and vertically. They have to accommodate displays of varying resolution, and windows of differing size. You can't simply place two objects next to each other, in your code - and expect one to appear below the other - in all cases.

But you can, if you put the objects inside a table. You can use this technique in HTML, installed in a post (in "Edit HTML" mode), or in an HTML / JavaScript gadget.



Use a single cell table to display two objects, one above the other.


Make this line
Appear above this line


<table><tr><td>Make this line<br>Appear above this line</td></tr></table>





To center those two objects, horizontally, in the available space, use dual nested tables.


Make this line
Appear above this line

<table align="center" border=1><tr><td><table align="center" border=1><tr><td>Make this line<br>Appear above this line</td></tr></table></td></tr></table>





If you have more than one pair of objects to display, add a second <td> ... </td> pair.


Make this line
Appear above this line
And make this line
Appear just above this line

<table align="center" border=1><tr><td><table align="center" border=1><tr><td>Make this line<br>Appear above this line</td></tr></table></td><tr><td>And make this line<br>Appear just above this line</td></tr></table></td></tr></table>




When you see the objects placed too closely next to each other, add padding. And center the contents.


Make this line
Appear above this line
And make this line
Appear just above this line

<span style="text-align:center;"><table align="center" border=1><tr><td><table align="center" border=1 cellpadding="20"><tr><td>Make this line<br>Appear above this line</td></tr></table></td><tr><td>And make this line<br>Appear just above this line</td></tr></table></td></tr></table></span>





Although the above examples all use text objects, any one of them could be a graphic image, instead.


Make this line
Appear above this line
And make the picture below

Appear just above this line

<span style="text-align:center;"><table border=1 align="center"><tr><td><table align="center" border=1 cellpadding="20"><tr><td>Make this line<br>Appear above this line</td><td>And make the picture below<br><img src="http://bp3.blogger.com/_pzC_7PLtN-0/
SE1ocS9z0KI/AAAAAAAABJw/j794h4vOfYQ/s320/Check+This+Out.gif"><br>Appear just above this line</td></tr></table></td></tr></table></span>


Please use "<span style="text-align:center;"> ... </span>"; don't use "<center> ... </center>" here. The <center> element has been deprecated, and should not be used if your blog is going to be around for a while.




Now that you see how tables can help you, let's make them invisible.


Make this line
Appear above this line
And make the picture below

Appear just above this line

<span style="text-align:center;"><table border=0 align="center"><tr><td><table align="center" border=0 cellpadding="20"><tr><td>Make this line<br>Appear above this line</td><td>And make the picture below<br><img src="http://bp3.blogger.com/_pzC_7PLtN-0/
SE1ocS9z0KI/AAAAAAAABJw/j794h4vOfYQ/s320/Check+This+Out.gif" style="border-width:0px;"><br>Appear just above this line</td></tr></table></td></tr></table></span>



And now, let's change the width of the table.


Make this line
Appear above this line
And make the picture below

Appear just above this line

<span style="text-align:center;"><table border=0 align="center" width="75%"><tr><td><table align="center" border=0 cellpadding="20"><tr><td>Make this line<br>Appear above this line</td><td>And make the picture below<br><img src="http://bp3.blogger.com/_pzC_7PLtN-0/
SE1ocS9z0KI/AAAAAAAABJw/j794h4vOfYQ/s320/Check+This+Out.gif" style="border-width:0px;"><br>Appear just above this line</td></tr></table></td></tr></table></span>



And let's change the width again.


Make this line
Appear above this line
And make the picture below

Appear just above this line

<span style="text-align:center;"><table border=0 align="center" width="75%">;<tr><td><table align="center" border=0 cellpadding="20" width="80%">;<tr><td>Make this line<br>Appear above this line</td><td>And make the picture below<br><img src="http://bp3.blogger.com/_pzC_7PLtN-0/
SE1ocS9z0KI/AAAAAAAABJw/j794h4vOfYQ/s320/Check+This+Out.gif" style="border-width:0px;"><br>Appear just above this line</td></tr></table></td></tr></table></span>




If you're in any way curious about how I setup this page, and showed the HTML so neatly, see my tutorial on anchors and HTML. And you can always examine the code for any specific page element, if you're using Firefox. Or check out the W3 Schools tutorials, that tell you all about each HTML tag, as used above.

And check out Creating A Horizontal Index For Your Blog, for a practical example of the above exercise.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Image Uploading #6

The issue of uploading images has been with us, off and on, for months. I last wrote about this problem in June 2006, in Image Uploading - 5. Note this problem might be related to the current problems of Disappearing Images also.

Remember though, if you have this problem, you don't report it to Blogger Support, and the problem continues, you have only yourself to blame when the problem continues.




(Edit 11/3): If the problem is with the Add Images button not appearing on the post editor toolbar, and the blog in question is published externally (not xxx.blogspot.com), then check your FTP publishing settings.
The image upload button will not appear for users publishing via FTP who do not have their FTP login information saved in their settings. As a workaround until we fix this, go to the Settings | Publishing tab and fill in the username and password for your FTP server. This does not affect Blog*Spot blogs.



(Edit 11/1):
Blogger Status claims that the problems have been fixed. I wonder what Pal smokes? Note additions to the list above.
Update 11:40 AM(PST): This issue has been resolved.



(Edit 10/30): A lot of advice about this problem mentions trying another browser. This problem, for some folks, may be caused by browser security settings which interfere with the scripts that enable image uploads. Using a different browser, maybe one with less security settings, will allow the scripts to run properly.

Another diagnostic procedure would be to try uploading into another post or another blog, maybe one created for the purpose. You can create any post, even one in another blog, upload pictures there, and publish the pictures in this post. And doing that would diagnose the problem as being related to the blog, as opposed to the computer.

In Disappearing Images - 3, I suggested that part of that problem might be caused by DNS cache, local content cache, or MTU settings issues, very real possibilities when working with complex networks that use Internet Protocol. I don't think DNS cache, local content cache, or MTU settings issues can be ruled out for the uploading problems either - caching is an issue that concerns every phase of Internet use.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Disappearing Images #3

In my previous article in this series, Disappearing Images - 2, I discussed the possibility of DNS problems being part of the ongoing photo problem. Today, Blogger and Blogspot (Classical blogs) were down for over 1 1/2 hours for a scheduled equipment replacement.
to replace the piece of network equipment that was causing the outages in the past couple of weeks


When Blogspot came back up, we were able to view our blogs, but still got errors. We then looked at Blogger Status, and we see an update to todays outage report (posted somewhat after 15:30):
blogger and blogspot are back up (you may need to restart your browser to pick up the DNS change)


Now, here is why I originally suspected that there is a DNS problem, somewhere in the Google structure.

Explaining, or even giving an overview, of configuring DNS service is beyond the scope of this blog. I will, however, introduce you to a referential tool which is used by many techies. DNS Report, which is a subset of the wonderful DNSStuff Toolbox, can be run against any domain (or here, any Blogger subdomain, or blog URL) in question. A generated DNS Report will provide an intriguing evaluation of the DNS server structure, that supports access to that domain (your blog). Remember that DNS is an essential component, in providing access to your blog.

I ran 4 separate DNS Reports. You can run each one, yourself, by clicking on the links.
  1. As a baseline test, I ran a DNS Report for blogger.com.
  2. I ran a report for my blog, nitecruzr.blogspot.com.
  3. I ran a report for the problematic Blogger Photos domain, photos1.blogger.com.
  4. I ran a report for the also problematic Google Groups domain, groups.google.com, home of Google Blogger Help.


I think the results speak for themselves. Maybe these reports will clear up eventually. If Blogger made changes today in their DNS infrastructure, which affects this problem, the reports linked may change. DNS changes can take hours, or days, to fully replicate within the worldwide DNS structure.

Below you can see actual photos (OK, screen prints) of the reports, taken today, 10/26. If those photos show an appreciable difference from what you or I see at any later time, we will conclude that the changes made 10/26 were significant. If not, well, we will wait and see if the ongoing photo problems, and other problems, continue.

(Edit 11/9): All current reports are the same as below. No change indicated.

I will keep an open mind, and I suggest that you do the same.


Here, and the next 2, photos, we see the DNS Report for blogger.com.












Here we have the report for my blog, Nitecruzr.




Here we have the report for the Blogger Photo domain.




Here we have the report for the Google Groups domain. Of late, Google Groups has been showing similar symptoms, and we see that the underlying problem may not be confined to Blogger alone.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Blogs Being Hijacked?

I wrote Stolen Computers several months ago. I have been fearing that this moment would come, sooner or later. Last week, I wrote my first article in this series, A Blog Hijack?.

As as we continue, we see new reports of this scenario.


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Giving Advice In Online Forums

Online forums, which are part of the Internet (in general), and the Web (in particular) (and no, the two are not the same) are used for many purposes. Some are advertisements, others social, and still others for requesting, and providing, advice. Since they are part of the Internet, many folks find it useful to provide some information (advice, discussion, or other content) in the forum itself, and link to additional information elsewhere on the Web.

The discussion of whether to provide advice in the forum itself, or in linked articles, is a constant issue in many forums. Some argue that it's more friendly to the one seeking advice, if the help is provided in the forum thread. Others think that it's more effective when provided in a linked article. Only one thing is known for sure - you can try to help everybody, but don't expect to please everybody.

These are all results which can be obtained from a Progressive Publishing strategy.
  • Accurate. The post itself, and the linked posts, must be correct. The purpose here is to help people.
  • Attractive. Bloggers are like anybody else - they want information that's readable.
  • Complete. Either the post itself, or the linked posts, must present a complete picture of the problem and solution.
  • Relevant. The content of the advice should be specific to the problem.
  • Timely. The advice should be produced promptly when needed, and should be updated when appropriate.


Accurate
We are here to help people. If someone needs advice, what we tell them must be correct. What we tell them to read must be likewise so.

If we are giving advice in an open forum, that forum likely operates on peer-peer advice. If your peer (anybody with a history in the forum) provides advice that contradicts yours, spend some time validating her / his claim. If you find him / her to be correct, annotate or revise your posts to reflect the advice given.

If you provide wrong advice, and nobody corrects you, nobody benefits. If you are corrected, and you ignore a correction, you eventually lose credibility.

Keep your forum advice, and your blog content, accurate and up to date.

Attractive
Anybody using the web will respond better to help provided in an attractive, easy to read, and well organised format. Both content of the advice - grammar, spelling, style - and layout of the advice - use of formatting and layout elements - are essential. The use of white space improves readability.

Classically, forums were Usenet based. Usenet is text only, and offers no formatting options. Of the forums that are web based, few offer an HTML feature set. The Google Groups forums are extensions of Usenet, and offer few features not found in Usenet.
  • Identity uniqueness. When you register for a given forum ("join" the forum), you are asked what nickname you wish to use. If that nickname is in use, in that forum, you will be instructed to try another nickname. Nicknames must be unique. This prevents spoofing.
  • Identify cross reference. For any poster, you can view their profile. Under Profile, you will see a list of all posts made by that person. This provides validation by posting history.
  • Hyperlink conversion. If you type in a string of characters that corresponds to a web address, ie
    http://bloggerstatusforreal.blogspot.com/
    2006/10/giving-advice-in-online-forums.html
    that string will be converted to a hyperlink, ie
    http://bloggerstatusforreal.blogspot.com/
    2006/10/giving-advice-in-online-forums.html
    .
Formatting in Google Groups, as in Usenet, is otherwise text only.

Which is easier to read?
Make your advice relevant.
>>http://bloggerstatusforreal.blogspot.com/
2006/10/giving-advice-in-online-forums.html#Relevant

OR
Make your advice relevant.

??

And not all web forums provide even the above amenities.

If you want to provide advice with any consistent style, off forum web sites are the best solution.

Complete
The information given should be complete in itself, or in linked articles. Giving advice like
Google is your friend.
is accurate, but not complete. In that blunt form, it's not at all helpful, and simply annoys the folks who need the help.

How about something like
Here's a search that should provide some possible solutions to your problem. Look through them, and see which ones you are more comfortable with. We'll help you with the details, if you want to ask more specific questions.
http://www.google.com/search?
hl=en&q=giving+advice+online&btnG=Google+Search

At least that gives the Original Poster the benefit of the doubt, and maybe helps him learn something from the experience.

Relevant
Don't waste the time of the folks looking for advice, or of the other helpers providing advice, with irrelevant or useless chatter. Advice should be applicable to the problem being discussed.

If we recognise that there are many different Bloggers (actually each is unique, in some way), we see that we can never hope to please everybody. Some may want more detail when we help them, while others may want less
Just the facts please.
and can anybody attribute that saying?

By writing advice, as with other posts, using hypertext, we can provide brief amounts of information in some posts, and more detail in others. We can link directly to a post, or even to a section within a post, to provide relevant details to the issue being discussed. With that said, you have to provide your advice, given the hope that the person being advised will read what you're writing.

Relevance is important when we start a new thread too. There are 6 separate and distinct forums in Blogger Help Forum. Starting any new thread in the proper forum is good etiquette, and helps in maintaining a level of order in the forums.

And when you provide advice, remember that in every forum, you will find individuals whose only goal is to create disruption - as you provide advice, they will always find a reason to argue with you. Don't be distracted by the trolls - and don't try to correct them. Keep the content of the thread relevant to the problem being discussed.

Timely
The advice should be provided promptly, so the person seeking advice will feel motivated to respond promptly. This will vary from forum to forum, and will depend upon overall traffic in that forum.

In a forum where most advice is requested, and received, within hours, you'll not help well by waiting until the next day to reply. If nobody replies to a forum thread started that day, and other threads are constantly being made and responded to, your response to that thread may not even be seen.

Blogs can be produced now (when the need arises, making them timely), and updated later (as information is found, making them accurate and complete). Forum posts can only be produced once - either now (which prevents them from being accurate and complete), or later (which prevents them from being timely). Forum threads which are both accurate, complete, and timely become cluttered with dozens of separate conversations, making them ugly (the opposite of attractive), and impossible to read.

If you provide advice thru a blog post (or series of posts), and a problem is discussed in multiple threads, you can allow your blog to evolve over time. As each new thread is started (by someone seeking advice), and provides new perspective on a problem, you can update your posts. As you update your posts, prior threads, containing the link to your posts also, will link to updated information. Your advice and posts become both accurate, attractive, complete, relevant, and timely.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Blogger Security Issues Continue

Last Friday (Friday the 13th yet), PCWorld Google's Blogger Suffers Outage reported
After getting hacked this past weekend, Google's Blogger publishing service suffered an outage yesterday morning that kept both Blogger.com and the Blogspot hosting service offline for two hours.


Then there was a long semi-outage 9/27 - 9/28, where any publishing of posts required repeated retries, and clearing of cache and cookies.

And, most recently, yet another hijacked blog.

What is going on here? Maybe a distributed attack, as I predicted some time ago?

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Disappearing Images #2

In my previous post, in this series, Disappearing Images, I suggested that this is caused by an MTU setting problem.

In thinking further, I think that the nature of the photos problem fits both a DNS problem, and an MTU setting problem.It's apparently random, by multiple factors
  • Blog.
  • Photo within blog.
  • Reader of the blog.
  • Time.


From reading questions by Blogger, I am guessing that they are focusing on the blogs, and the photos. I think that we need to diagnose the DNS and MTU factors, since we are the ones affected.

Bothe DNS and MTU involve 3 groups of factors.
  • The reader (you, or your friends), and client computer.
  • The network, including routers and servers between the readers, and the Blogger servers.
  • The Blogger servers themselves.


The problem is seemingly random by time and by person - some people will see the problem, while others won't, even when viewing the same blog. No two computers in the world, including what network activity they are involved in, how they are connected to the network, and what blogs they are accessing, will ever be the same. So two people, even when accessing the same blog simultaneously, will get different results.

The problem is seemingly random by photo within blog - any one person will see some photos, but not others. This is caused by cache issues. Any time that you view a blog, and you have ever viewed any post previously, some of the photos will be in cache. Some photos may be in cache, but be expired. Different photos may have been added to the blog at different times, will have different cache expiry status, and may or may not be displayed if there is a problem at that time.
  • Any photos that are not in cache won't be retrieved and won't be displayed.
  • Any photos that are in cache, but are expired, won't be retrieved and won't be displayed.
  • Any photos that are in cache and are not expired, will be displayed.
  • If there is no problem at that time, all photos, regardless of cache status, will be displayed.


DNS also is cache sensitive. At any time, any DNS server in the world may need to provide the IP address of photos1.blogger.com, so a customer can retrieve a photo. The Blogger DNS server will be called upon, to provide that IP address. If you, or any other user of the same DNS server, needs that address, its availability will be subject to similar possibilities.
  • If the address is not in cache, any photos that are needed won't be retrieved and won't be displayed.
  • If the address is in cache but expired, any photos that are needed won't be retrieved and won't be displayed.
  • If the address is in cache and not expired, any photos that are needed will be retrieved and displayed.
  • If there is no problem at that time, all photos, regardless of DNS status, will be retrieved and displayed.


There are 3 factors that affect the status of any item in a cache - be it a DNS cache, or Temporary Internet files.
  • Activity. With a more active computer, client or server, items expire sooner.
  • Age. The oldest items expire sooner from cache .
  • Cache size. With a smaller cache, items expire sooner.
Here, too, every computer in the world will be different.

The bottom line here? My gut feel is that there's one or more servers, somewhere in the Blogger or Google complex, that are intermittently bad. Given all of the above possibilities, the intermittent period doesn't have to be too small, or too irregular. It doesn't take too much imagination to see any one server being down for hours, if not days, and causing the above problems.

With all of that said, I would like to diagnose whether DNS or MTU are involved on the client end. Any diagnosis will require the involvement of the folks seeing the symptoms, when the symptoms are seen. I will discuss what needs to be done next, in my next article in this series, Disappearing Images - 3.

(Edit 10/26 15:30): Blogger equipment replacement today apparently involved changes to the DNS infrastructure.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Blog Hijack?

I wrote Stolen Computers several months ago. I have been expecting that this moment would come, sooner or later. I'm still not convinced that it's as obvious as it appears, nor that I have any part of it described in my article. But that's why I'm here - I'm learning as I go.

I'm going to quote this story from the relevant posts in Blogger Help Group: Something Is Broken Blogs have been hijacked. . ....

  • The original post by Margie, 10/17.

    I received an email from blogger saying that my account had been cancelled because I violated the TOS. However, there was no explanation at all. I had blogs that were not linked to websites at all. Instead of pointing out the offending blog, they took out all of my blogs. On Thursday Oct 12th, I went into my sites and double checked them all to make sure everything was working. I added an affiliate or two, a few links and a sign up form (only on my job search blog) for people to sign up for a free job search ezine. I added a picture of the ebook I am promoting, but only to that site. The only other thing that I did new was join a subscription site called article builder. Article builder adds their own articles to your site automatically. I thought I'd try it because the articles are interesting and appropriate to job search. On Friday, Oct 13th, am EST, my blogs were all gone. . . mind you, this was after being told several days before that they were sorry that they had tagged my blogs as spam.

    Now, I read the TOS at least 5 times and could not find any reason whatsoever that I violated anything. I asked other people. No one can understand. My other hosting accounts don't understand. I have seen blogs out there there that light up like Christmas trees with advertisements everywhere. I have seen blatent sex sites being let through on blogs. My blog contains solid job search advice and articles providing job search advice. Yes, my blogs link to any appropriate websites that I have and I only have 4 or 5 websites right now. Not all of them have blogs either.

    When I pulled up the cache for jobsearchtop10.blogspot.com, I saw my first page. When I typed in the url, I was taken, after a brief delay, to anther site which I outlined in my earlier post. I saw that google had last visited the site on Oct 7th and there was a strange statement saying that my blog had been flagged. I had no idea what that meant. Now I know.

  • A second post by Margie, with more details, 10/20.
    The article builder is a program you sign up for. You have a password to get into the site. Once you are into the site, you choose private label articles that are on topic for your site, click on your choice to upload the articles to your websites, wordpress, blogger for example. When you click on blogger you have to enter your blogger password. Then you are taken to the articles that you want to upload, you set the number of days you want it uploaded for whether it be daily, weekly, monthly, etc. save that and then the article builder does the rest. They explained upfront that blogger may consider the articles to be spam at first and that is why you have to type in a security code. They tell you to go into your blogger account for a day or two, submit the blog to the blogger team (click on the question mark), the blogger team will review it and approve it when they see it is a quality article related to your site.

  • An interesting analysis by Kayakto, 10/30.
    i make an "article site" - really just a collection of all availaible public domain articles. I tell people that they can post them on their blogs automatically. Of course I know that blogger knows my IP and that blogger knows that Im just a spammer. So what happens - blogger marks all blogs that use my service as spam. I then tell my "users" to use this tool on blogger.com that you type captcha and blogger.com verifyes blog as not spam. My "user" does it on his account, with his email - blogger employee visits the blog, sees it's fine, marks the blog as "not spam". Thank you my "user" for giving me your blog, now marked as not spam for free. Say goodbye to your account. From what I know this guy is making at least 20 bucks from every 100 visitors you had.



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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Improvements In Communication #2

A few weeks ago, I noted the existense of a new channel of communication, Known Issues for Blogger in Beta. The apparent intended focus of this web page is application issues related to Blogger Beta. This was a good start, and nicely complemented the Blogger Status, web page, which apparently is intended for system related problems.

The focus for Beta Known Issues (aka BKI) is limited to Blogger Beta. Noting that the migration from Classical Blogger to Beta Blogger is not all that complete, I recommended a similar web page for Classical Blogger. This recommendation was publicly denied.

Yesterday, I noted significant changes in the Blogger Help form and help request procedures. And a significant part of the help request procedures includes two new references - Beta Known Issues (an apparent alternate reference to the database which feeds the BKI blog), and Classical Known Issues (which complements the BKI, and provides a similar reference for Classical Blogger users).

Now, both the BKI and CKI web pages are, what I would call, proof of concept pages. They show that something can be done. Neither offer much detail (depth) or content (width). Over the next few days, and as I complete my assessment of the progress to date in the Beta Migration, I hope to compile my current lists of issues, and encourage other Bloggers to do likewise, so we can ask Blogger in truth
Hey Blogger - Why isn't this issue acknowleged in BKI / CKI?


Maybe we can encourage Blogger Support to actually make something out of BB-BKI and BB-CKI. I suspect that it will take some effort, but it's a start. And it's better than the silence.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Migration To Blogger Beta #4

In the previous articles in this series, I described a heterogenous migration process, and previously a homogenous migration process. In a heterogenous migration (which will be the case in 99% of the projects that you'll be involved in), you allow for differences between the principals, and you plan the process around those differences.

This is called a phased migration.
  • 10% - No challenges, lots of stress. Pilot.
  • 80% - A few challenges, less stress if you plan it right. Main.
  • 10% - Lots of challenges. Followup.


Pilot
The pilot phase is probably the most exciting part. This is the first migration that you've done (except hopefully one or two black box tests that you ran in private in your lab), so deep down inside yourself, you're not totally convinced that it will work. This is normal.

For the pilot, you identify a few principals that are the easiest to migrate. Maybe they involve the people who trust you the most, and the systems that are the easiest to support. If you're lucky, and you have a complex system that's used by somebody who totally trusts you, you do that one too, just to show everybody that this can be done. But you do each one personally.

Everybody is watching you. You do this very carefully, and you check everything three times.

Once the pilot migration is done, you wait. This is the support phase of the pilot. If there are any latent problems, support has to deal with them. If you're smart, you will live with the support staff during this phase.

The waiting period, after the pilot migration, is essential. If you have a standard business cycle, maybe 1 day, or 1 month, you will wait for that period, and you build the waiting period into the project schedule. This lets you ensure that no problems arise after a migration, before the main migration starts.

If the population is large enough, you identify enough principals for 2 or 3 pilots, one after the other. If any problems are identifed in the first pilot, you fix the problems, then you repeat with the second set of principals. And again with the third set, if you're so lucky.

Main

You got thru the pilot, with only a few scrapes. Now you have the support of the principals. This is the bulk of the work - 80% of the principals.

This phase has to be automated, to allow for the numbers involved. You'll need scripts and tools, to help you do this part quickly. Take too long with the main part of the project, and you'll stall.

As you continue thru the main phase, in a successful migration, you'll notice the less cooperative principals coming up to you and demanding that you migrate them earlier then they agreed to previously. They will see the shiny new stuff that their coworkers now have, and they will be jealous.

This is where a good migration script, and a flexible migration tracking database, will pay off. If you have a potential new supporter in front of you, and the chance to show the population in general that you can do the job, you want to quickly respond with
OK, how soon can we get you out of the way?

As you ask the question, you are looking at the tracking database, to see what conflicts could arise if you add this new convert to todays migration. Strike while the iron is hot.

And you either push 1 or 2 of the other principals back a few days, or you plan for another late evening to finish this one sooner. Since this is a potential new supporter, you'll want to watch this one carefully.

To allow for variances during the main phase, you triage the main population yet again.
  • The drop dead main - homogenously identical.
  • The absolutely simplest of the main.
  • The most difficult of the main.
You schedule some of each category, every day or week. This lets you keep the project moving, with less stress. If you hit a snag, you keep moving with the simplest only, while you examine the latest problem.

Here's where your support staff is essential. You can't have everybody doing the main migrations. As you migrate, you better have support staff ready to deal with the day to day issues. If you don't, the issues will become problems, and the principals that supported you will start to rethink their support.

There will always be problems. Most people will accept the problems, if you acknowledge the problems, and fix them promptly. Just don't ignore, or try to hide, the problems. Here's a hint: If you don't report any problems, most management will think that you aren't moving fast enough.

When you identify a problem, get to work and identify a solution. Then admit the problem, before everybody starts asking questions. Don't just work on a solution, and publicise the problem 1/2 hour before you fix the problem. The business community, I'll guarantee you, will know about the problem long before you fix it.

As my boss would tell us
I don't mind if you make a mistake occasionally. If you don't make mistakes, you aren't working hard enough. But let me know about the mistakes, before one of my peers in the business community comes up to me in the hallway and asks me what we're doing about the problem. You watch my back, and I'll watch yours.


Here, too, is where your migration tracking database is essential. When someone asks
How easily can we add another department to the project?

Have the answer in front of you, or at least within a couple minutes perusal of the database.

As you continue thru the main phase, you will gain experience, and the stress level will go down. This will result in more efficiency, and fewer mistakes. And allow you to get ready for the followup.

Followup

Having finished the main phase, you are more experienced in the possible problems - how to detect them and to fix them. Hopefully, you've now got some idea how to predict them too.

That would be good, because now you have the most challenging part of the project - the followup. These are the principals that are 10% of the volume, but 20% of the stress. And they will be 500% of the trouble, if you mess up.

During the pilot, you lived at the office. During the main phase, you kept normal (what is normal anyway) hours, but switched between migration and support, sometimes within seconds. During the followup phase, you'll be living at the desks of the principals. Or at least they will think so.

But having survived the main phase, you'll hopefully have tools and procedures in place, so if there's a problem, you'll be standing before the principal involved, ready to discuss the problem, before he / she realises that there is a problem.

Conclusion

So I'm sure that some of you will be asking me
Chuck, what does this have to do with Blogger Beta?
and I'll answer
Everything - just read between the lines.
So follow me into my next post, in my Beta blog, where I will discuss Blogger Beta, and how it should involve a phased migration.

Migration To Blogger Beta #3

In the previous article in this series, I described a homogenous migration, where all of the principals (involved computers, software, and users) are identical. In a homogenous migration, you can easily substitute one principal for another. Whatever works for one will work for another. No surprises.

Guess what? There is no such thing as a homogenous migration. There will always be some surprises, when you deal with computers, software, and users. You cannot easily substitute one principal for another, unless you enjoy being yelled at.

You can, though, use a phased migration process.
  • Pilot.
  • Main.
  • Followup.
You just organise it differently. You identify the differences between the principals, and customise the process to allow for the differences.

Identify the features of each principal. The people, network connections, software. Which features make the various principals unique? Here are just examples - I'm sure that you could think of a dozen more.
  • A computer that is connected differently.
  • A computer with a different version of the operating system.
  • A different software product.
  • A user who is a key performer in the department.
  • A user whose manager thinks is the key performer.
All of these are surprises waiting for you to enjoy. Or challenges, waiting to challenge you.

So you try and identify the challenges, and plan for them. And you pray for some simpler principals, with no challenges. And in between the two - lots of challenges, and no challenges - you will find the bulk of the population - some challenges.

This process, where you identify the challenges, we call triage.
  • No challenges.
  • A few challenges.
  • Lots of challenges.


If you triage properly, you'll end up with a nice even distribution.
  • 10% - No challenges. Pilot.
  • 80% - A few challenges. Main.
  • 10% - Lots of challenges. Followup.
See where we are going? Next, we'll explore a phased migration.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Migration To Blogger Beta #2

The art of moving computer users from one computer program or system is called migration. One example of a migration, which we will discuss in this series, is Migration To Blogger Beta.

The simplest migration - when all principals (involved computers, software, and users) are identical - we call a homogenous migration. With all principals being equal, planning a homogenous migration is simple. Take the number of principals, divide by the number of days, weeks, or months allowed for the migration, and you get a count of how many principals must be migrated per day, week, month.

That's the simplest homogenous migration, and that works fine if there are no problems.

To allow for problems, you plan to work harder during the part of the migration when there are no problems being experienced. You migrate a few principals in the beginning, carefully. You work really hard in the middle, maybe twice as hard as you need to. And you hope for no problems, so you can coast at the end. That way, as problems are discovered, you have that period at the end to catch up.

That's called a phased migration.
  • Pilot.
  • Main.
  • Followup.


The nice thing about a homogenous migration is that all principals, being equal, are interchangable. If one or two principals (people, in this case) are on vacation, that's fine - you can migrate them at the end. If a group of principals need to be migrated together, no problem - you schedule them together. If a holiday comes up during the migration, fine - you work a little harder before and after the holiday.

Very few (OK, none, really) migrations are ever totally homogenous. Just as (in my theory) no two computers in the world are 100% identical, neither are people. You cannot blindly migrate an entire population without allowing for variances. Not unless you enjoy dealing with problems, while having fingers pointed in your face constantly. And it's a good idea to have an up to date CV too.

So you get real, and plan a heterogenous migration. I'll discuss a heterogenous migration in the next post in this series.

Migration To Blogger Beta

Blogger Beta has been out for slightly less than 2 months. I made my first Beta blog post on August 16.

The Beta rollout to date has been, to put it politely, chaotic. And has inspired various literary masterpieces in the help forums.

The question going thru everybody's mind, and asked here frequently, is
When must we all migrate to Beta? Weeks, months, years?

I would personally prefer the latter.

Today, we see that question answered, in Google Blogger Help: An Open Question to "Blogger Employee".
We're looking forward to migrating all users to beta in the next few months, so, as there's limited time left with regular Blogger,


So, there's the answer. Not one that brings joy.

And whenever we ask about migrating our blogs, to test Beta, we're told that migration is by invitation only.

Somehow, Blogger Staff, you better start listening to your unpaid staff. You need to develop a business model, with some real support, and think about how to rollout this product in a way that doesn't bring so much hair pulling. And it's too late for me, but some of the Bloggers would appreciate that you guys get your heads out of where the sun doesn't shine and listen carefully.

Now I don't normally write stuff in haste, so I hope you will appreciate the urgency (and raw content) that I applied to writing the above opener.

Since I can only write a bit at a time, check my next post in this series, as I describe migration strategies, or my actual evaluation of the migration. You can also read my bud Roberto's more colourful discussion, in Roberto's Report: What Does Migrating Involve?.

(Edit 10/19): Today brought still more bad news.

Size Limits On Your Blogger Account?

There are no real limits on the account itself, and there are not a lot of limits in Blogger, in general.

There is one major limit on your blog, though.
006 Please contact Blogger Support.blog/nn/nn/n/yourblog/index.html


You'll get this error if the main page is over 1M in size. By the time you see this, though, it's likely that you went past the limits of your readers patience, long ago.

If you like having people read your blog, keep the main page size down.

>> Top

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Putting Anchors, and HTML, In Your Posts

Blogger blogs are coded in HTML. If you want to include something besides plain text in your post, you code it in HTML. The HTML is displayed as ("rendered into") whatever you code (when you get it right). One very useful feature of HTML is Anchor Tags, which you can find described below.

This works great, when you want to display something interesting. Occasionally, though, you will want to instruct someone else how to display something interesting. My tutorial on using images in your blog, Image Test (OK, I know it's a lame name), is me trying to show you how to code HTML. So I have to show you both the HTML, and what the HTML produces.

Look at the Hyperlink example in the tutorial.
<a href="http://blogging.nitecruzr.net/
2006/07/image-test.html#Picture">
Check This Out</a>

How did I display the HTML here, rather than the link itself?
Check This Out


Well, wouldn't you like to know?
No, Chuck, don't be a jerk.

OK, I will be nice here. It's a simple enough process, anyway. HTML is nothing but a lot of special code, enclosed in "<" and ">" characters (see my Hyperlink example, for instance).

1. This is the code used ...
&lt;a href="http://blogging.nitecruzr.net/
2006/07/image-test.html#Picture"&gt;
Check This Out&lt;/a&gt;

2. ... to display this. And this is the code used ...
<a href="http://blogging.nitecruzr.net/
2006/07/image-test.html#Picture">
Check This Out</a>

3. ... to display this
Check This Out

If I want to instruct how to code #3, I display #2, by putting #1 into the post editor window.

If you want more information about using "&" code, see (among many articles on the web) HTML Goodies So, You Want An "& Command", Huh?.

I'll leave it to you to figure out how I typed "&lt;" and "&gt;", without getting "<" and ">".

Anchor Tags
Anchors are an entirely different feature. In order to show how you use anchors, though, I included the subject of Anchors with my tutorial on posting HTML.

To explain how I display the code below, I'll refer you to the tutorial above. And that's basically why I put both subjects into one post.

If you have a long post, with multiple sections, like this article, you can carve the post into logical sections. You can link to the various sections, just as you link to individual posts. From here, we can jump (back) to the HTML tutorial. Click it and see.

So, how did I do that? Well, this trick is in two parts.
  • The anchor.
  • The link to the anchor.
I'll show two examples here.
  • At the top of this article, we have an invisible ("blind") anchor. You don't see it, though it's there.
    <a name="HTMLTutorial"></a>

  • And here, we have a plain old hyperlink, but one pointing to that anchor.
    From here, we can jump (back) to the <a href="#HTMLTutorial">HTML tutorial</a>. Click it and see.

  • This section of this article is headed by a visible ("sighted") anchor.
    <a name="AnchorTagsTutorial"><span style="font-weight:bold;">Anchor Tags</span></a>

  • And, we can likewise jump (back) to the top of this section, the Anchor Tags tutorial. Click it and see.
Of course, the whole idea of anchors is to allow you to jump straight to sections of a long post, from outside the post. So we will again look at Image Test, within which you find my Hyperlink example anchor.
<a name="Hyperlink"><span style="font-weight:bold;">A Hyperlink</span></a>
Please go there, and see for yourself. And, in the immediately above example,
So we will again look at <a href="http://blogging.nitecruzr.net/ 2006/07/image-test.html">Image Test</a>, within which you find my <a href="http://blogging.nitecruzr.net/ 2006/07/image-test.html#Hyperlink">Hyperlink example anchor</a>.

After you add anchor links to your post, don't move between "Edit HTML" and "Compose" modes. Of course, you can always examine the code for any specific page element, if you're using Firefox. Or check out the W3 Schools tutorials, that tell you all about each HTML tag, as used above. >> Top

Disappearing Images

If you use images (diagrams, pictures, photographs) in your blog, you may already have seen this problem. You or a friend will look at your blog, and where you should see an image, all you'll see is a blank space, or a blue or red "x", or maybe an empty box. This will depend upon what browser you use, what other security devices you have on your computer, and how the blog is coded.

Some folks see the problem when uploading pictures, and some after the images have been uploaded. In some cases, the problem will come and go, without any action by either the blog owner, or the reader. I've been a victim (my blog has shown this problem) too. I have yet to see this acknowledged on any of the Blogger issue lists.

The one thing that I will say in Bloggers defense is this
If you are experiencing this problem, and you haven't reported it, then you are part of the problem.


That's a faint defense though. This has been reported, repeatedly. I know that Blogger has heard the cries of pain. They should acknowledge the cries.

Recent Reports:
(See End Of Post)

(Edit 2007/04/20): Blogger is now convinced that the problem is caused by deleting the post that the photos are uploaded into.

(Edit 2007/04/12): Blogger Employee is now actively diagnosing the problem.
  • How were you uploading the images?

  • How many did you upload at one time?

  • What were the size of the images you uploaded?


  • And is now suspecting one common factor - photos uploaded to a post which they aren't being displayed in.
    The images don't transfer over when you copy them from one post to another - you got to upload them directly to the post you want to publish.


    (Edit 10/16): Blogger Employee is now involved, and has concentrated his (her) activities into the one longest thread in the forum.

    (Edit 10/17): A very interesting post in Blogger Help Group: Publishing Trouble Uploading Pictures
    The image is not there when I click the current day's post - although it is onbviously there to others who can see it.

    I can however see images on other Blogger Blogs including my own and in other types of Blogs

    Then, when I return the next day to read the next days's blog the image is now there.

    This is almost the sort of thing that you'd get with an MTU setting problem. Intermittent - by both person and day. I wonder if the Blogger photo server has a problem with fragmented packets?

    This discussion is continued, in my next post in this series - Disappearing Images - 2.

    >> Forum thread links: bX-*00005

    >> Copy this tag: bX-*00005

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    Changing The Account Name On Your Blog

    If you have a blog for a while, eventually you may decide that you would like to manage it from another account. Unfortunately, there's nowhere in Settings that says
    Manage this blog from this account.

    So what do you do? Basically, just add a second administrator to the blog. Then the second administrator may be able to remove the first from the blog.
    • Go to Settings - Permissions.
    • Invite a second person - enter an email address for that person (or your second email address, as you wish).
    • The invitee opens her / his email, and follows the link included with the invitation.
    • He / she identifies her / him self with a Google account. The Google account does not have to be a publicly known email account, but since it's a Google account, it will be an account with email possibilities.
    • Once the invitee has accepted access to the blog, from a Google account, you (in your current account) can return to Permissions, and look next to the invitee name. Find and select the "Guest" link. This will change to "Admin", meaning that the invitee now has administrative authority.
    • Once you've granted administrative authority to the invitee, he / she can go to the dashboard display, and she / he should see the various blog options that indicates administrative authority.
    • Once the invitee has administrative authority, he / she may have the option to go to Settings - Permissions, and remove the current administrator (you) from the list.

    You Do Need a Google Account For A New Blogger Blog
    For a New Blogger blog, you have to have a Google account - no more Blogger accounts. Google accounts are easy enough to get. If you have a GMail account, you have a Google account already. If you don't want to use your GMail account for any reason (and there are probably a few that could be listed), just assign yourself another Google account, and use that to manage your blogs. Or, you can use a non-GMail account, but it will have to be one capable of receiving and processing email from Google.

    Friday, October 06, 2006

    Using Images In Your Posts

    One of the easiest ways to make your blog more user friendly is to add images - diagrams, illustrations, even photographs. But sometimes that's also one of the hardest - how do I start?

    Well there is nothing special about an image. It's just a link to a file, where the file contains a picture or whatever.

    How you include the link - embedded or not, makes the difference. An embedded link lets you view the image, directly, in the post. An external link lets you view the image, separately. Videos, aka moving photos, can be embedded in the blog posts.

    And you do need to consider what you're going to do with the image. Replacing the default text title / description in the blog header will be a little bit of work. Blogger has a Configure Header widget, but it's not very replete with options yet.

    Now having seen the possibilities, and the possibilities are practically endless, you need to be aware of the possible complications and limitations.

    If you feature pictures in your posts, make sure that the pictures will fit. If in doubt, upload them with Small selected - let your readers click on the pictures to see the full size, and arrange them, within the available space, using tables. And please, whatever you do, don't embed full size pictures in the post.
    • If you host the photos on Blogger, use the two size images code, as created by the upload.
    • If you host the pictures on a third party service, you'll have to upload reduced size photos yourself.


    If you have a photograph sitting on your computer, you can simply use Blogger, and upload the photograph. Once the photograph is uploaded, you can do whatever you like with it. Or you can use any third party hosting service. It's up to you to decide.

    You can use Blogger images just like images that you upload to any online hosting service. If you have an image that you'll only be showing in one post, you can upload directly into that post. Or you can upload to any post, in any blog, and use that image in any other post, or any other blog, or the template in any blog, at your convenience.

    This could be a key in working around some photo upload problems.
    • There is a limit on volume of uploaded images for each blog. It's possible that the limit is being incorrectly identified, in some cases.
    • Some uploading problems have been seen when attempting to upload to posts previously published. This suggests that post content may affect uploading.
    If you like lots of images, and you have exceeded the limit in your favourite blog, or if you just want more images in this post, don't despair. Setup a new post, and upload images there. If you can't upload to any post in the current blog, you may find it possible to upload images to a different blog. Whatever you do, you can still publish your images in this post.

    After you upload any images, in Edit HTML, find and copy the HTML for any desired photo as uploaded. Paste the HTML, as copied, into the Edit HTML window for any other post, in any blog of your choice. If you don't want any post, containing only uploaded images, to be visible, simply save that post as a Draft.

    If you upload a lot of images into your posts, you'll want to plan and execute the uploads carefully, to save effort. The current Post Editor has a few idiosyncrasies as to how it uploads images.

    The nice thing about Blogger hosting images is when you upload an image, a copy of the image, properly sized to fit in the post, is created. The upload process creates code that embeds the resized image ("thumbnail") into the post, with a hyperlink to the original image. Your readers can click on the image in the post, and see the original image, in full size.

    First, upload the image to Blogger, or to any alternate photo hosting service.

    1. Create a new post. I called mine "Images", you can use whatever name pleases you. Follow me, and see why.
    2. Upload a picture. Pick the proper picture float alignment when you upload. I use "float:left" for all of mine, since my sidebar is on the right. If your sidebar is on the left, "float:right" will be more useful.
    3. If the picture uploaded successfully, continue. If you are currently being victimised by the intermittent photo uploading problem, and you had no success this time, start over with Step 1.
    4. From the post edit window, select the "Edit HTML" tab. Find the code for your uploaded picture. Here's one of mine.
      <a onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}" href="http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/
      5304/92/1600/DSCF0048%201280.1.jpg"><img style="float:left; margin:0 0 10px 10px;cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;" src="http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/
      5304/92/320/DSCF0048%201280.1.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></a>

    5. Select and copy the code (for instance the example above).
    6. Save this post as Draft, so the post won't show up in the blog.


    Now, you can add an image URL to your post or template.

    1. Look at the code, created by the image upload, which you just copied.
      <a onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}" href="http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/
      5304/92/1600/DSCF0048%201280.1.jpg"><img style="float:left; margin:0 0 10px 10px;cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;" src="http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/
      5304/92/320/DSCF0048%201280.1.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></a>

    2. Here's the URL of the thumbnail copy of the image.
      http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/
      5304/92/320/DSCF0048%201280.1.jpg

    3. Here's the URL of the full size copy of the image.
      http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/
      5304/92/1600/DSCF0048%201280.1.jpg

    4. Here's the thumbnail image, unclickable.
      <img style="float:left; margin:0 0 10px 10px;cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;" src="http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/
      5304/92/320/DSCF0048%201280.1.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

    5. Obviously, the URL for your image will differ. Take either URL, and add it to your post or template, as you like.


    Or, add the image, as a thumbnail that's clickable to show the full sized photo, to your post.

    1. Edit the post where you wish the picture to be viewed. From the post edit window, select the "Edit HTML" tab. Paste the copied code, into the location that pleases you.
    2. You now have a solitary photo, floating to the left, uncaptioned.





    3. Add some text, here I show some beside the photo, and some below the photo.
      <a onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}" href="http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/
      5304/92/1600/DSCF0048%201280.1.jpg"><img style="float:left; margin:0 0 10px 10px;cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;" src="http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/
      5304/92/320/DSCF0048%201280.1.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></a>
      <br />
      Chuck's <a href="http://nitecruzrrecipes.blogspot.com/
      2005/07/cabbage-shrimp-salad.html">Cabbage / Shrimp Salad</a>
      <br clear="left">
      And the best thing is, this is totally healthy (if you use low carb Cannola oil).
      <br>

    4. You now have a solitary photo, floating to the left, but with some text captioning it.





      Chuck's Cabbage / Shrimp Salad


      And the best thing is, this is totally healthy (if you use low carb Cannola oil).




    Or, add the image as a button, linking to another post.




    Check out my other recipes too (Just click on the picture)!



    <a href="http://nitecruzrrecipes.blogspot.com/2005/07/cabbage-shrimp-salad.html"><img style="border-width:0px; float:left; margin:0 10px 10px 20px;cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;" src="http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/5304/92/320/DSCF0048%201280.1.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></a>
    <br />
    Check out my other recipes too (Just click on the picture)!
    <br clear="left">



    Or maybe you just want the full size version of the photo to open in a new window.



    If you're in any way curious about how I setup this page, and showed the HTML so neatly, see my tutorial on anchors and HTML. And you can always examine the code for any specific page element, if you're using Firefox. Or check out the W3 Schools tutorials, that tell you all about each HTML tag, as used above.




    You don't have to host your photos on Blogger. There are any number of free hosting services, such as Photobucket, Picasa, and Webshots, that will allow you to upload any number of pictures to their server. Peter, with Blogger Tips and Tricks: Comparison between hosting images with Blogger and photobucket, provides an interesting analysis of Photobucket.

    >> Top