Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Blog For Virginia USA

An old joke from Virginia, USA (when I lived there long ago).
Q: How many Virginians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: At least 3. One does the work, the others reminisce how great the old bulb was.

And so will go the updated one.
Q: How many Bloggers does it take to migrate a blog to the New Template 2006?
A: At least 3. One does the work, the others reminisce how great Classic Blogger was.


All joking aside, there are still those who need to move their blogs into New Blogger 2006. To do this, simply use the "Claim your blog: Get started with the new Blogger" Legacy Claim wizard.

And, having moved your blog into the future, you probably should look at the template. If you've been admiring the shiny XML based gadgets on many Blogger blogs, you're going to want a blog with a layout template. And after migrating the blog to a layout template, you'll want to check out the new Designer Templates, currently in Draft (Blue) Blogger.

But there will, for a while, be those who need to setup a blog with a Classic (HTML based) template.

Fortunately, this is not at all hard.


My Dashboard, with my latest blog.


I created "Chuck's New Blog" a couple days ago, well after I finished my migration "exercise" ("stress out") last Thursday 1/25/2007. It started out life with a Layouts template. So I select Layout, then Edit HTML.


The "Edit HTML" page


From here, you can View the classic template code for your blog, and when you've decided it's what you want, Revert.


A reassuring reminder


Reminding me that nothing I do can't be undone. Even so, if this were a blog that you'd been working on for a while, I'd advise you quite firmly to backup the template on your own. Who knows what evil lives in the hearts?


The deed is done.



No obvious differences here




Bet you've seen this suggestion here and there


And now, we are given the choice to upgrade our template, from Classic, to the new Layouts.


And now my New blog, with a Classic layout


The blog is kind of empty (OK, it's very empty), so not much to see (nothing at all, really) - but it's a Classic template, take my word for it. Or, you can look at it yourself, and view Page Source, if you really are that sceptical.

Just don't overlook the "Claim your blog: Get started with the new Blogger" Legacy Claim wizard, which is where this exercise started.

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Say Goodbye To Old Blogger

The migration to New Blogger 2006 is in its final stages. If you haven't gotten the monolithic demand, you will any day.
Move your account to use the new Blogger

No "Please", no "Soon".

You may, for a limited amount of time, have one last chance.

There are two possible web site addresses, to login from.Let's see how long the latter remains operational. And don't logout, or you're done.

If you have a blog with team relationships, you would be very much better off migrating NOW, while you can plan the migration properly.

But before you get to this point, please organise your accounts - make sure that all account names and passwords are up to date. You won't even be able to migrate your blog to WordPress, if your account / password isn't up to date.

Now, some of you who read this might think that I'm a shill for Blogger. But you're wrong. I haven't been a fan of Blogger, blindly, since March 10, 2006 - the day that I (my blog) joined the 403 Club. That was not the happiest day of my life, and it marked the beginning of my (unpaid) career as a Blogger critic.

But, even as a critic, I know that we're going to have to move forward. We're stuck here in Oz, Dorothy. You can't click your heels and go back - Kansas isn't there any more.And welcome to K-Mart, where the customers provide their own support.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Blogger Issuing Diagnostic Codes #3

One of the complaints about the mysterious problem codes is that we have no glossary to explain what they mean. All that we really need, though, is the ability to associate the individual problems with each other, and distinguish the different problems from one another. We don't care about the universe of all possible problems, just the problem that we're looking at right now.

If we're looking at someone who's reporting a bX-wj8w1r, maybe we want to see everybody else with the same problem. So we search on bX-wj8w1r. We can see all of the cases found, examine the stated symptoms en mass, and see what the actual problem is. Since we know that nobody describes their symptoms the same way, seeing all of the reports of the same problem, together, is much easier if we use the code.

One of the problems with problem analysis is that dissimilar problems get lumped together, but similar problems are never reported together. It's impossible to analyse "login problems", because there are so many different problems, yet so many ways that any specific login problem can be described.

Look at my article Help! My Blog Is Gone! for an example of how many symptoms might be reported for one problem, yet how many individual problems might cause one symptom.

If we assign a "bx-" code to each specific problem, we can aggregate the problems and find out, at any time, how many people are being affected by a malfunctioning login script. Maybe we'll find that the people reporting a new problem just updated their personal firewall, which is now blocking a login script from running.

Another use for the codes is the ability to see what new problem is being reported. If we simply search for "bx-", and look at the most recent reports, we can see that.

The value of the "bx-" code is that it's a unique string. You'll probably not find "bx-" part of anything but these problems. If I searched for "rat" on the web, I'd find hits from "borat", "congratulations", and "rationalization", among others. If I search for "bx-", it's pretty likely that all hits will be people discussing a Blogger problem.

That will make it possible to script a search, and compile a dynamic glossary at any time. Just search for "bx-", sort by date descending, and see what you get.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Blogger Issuing Diagnostic Codes #2

Last week, Blogger changed their system to issue mysterious strings of characters, when specific problems are encountered. The "bx-" codes are cryptic and mysterious, and have motivated much speculation.
  1. Problem Census - Blogger can see how many people are experiencing a given problem, and better prioritise resource allocation, to solve each problem.
  2. Peer Search - Any of us can search for others with our problem.
  3. Solution Search - Any of us, or Blogger, can learn if anybody has discovered a solution to a given problem.
  4. Solution Report - Blogger can report a solution, more effectively, if one is found.


Problem Census - Blogger can see how many people are experiencing a given problem, and better prioritise resource allocation. Problems with more people reporting will receive more attention.

Peer Search - Any of us can search for others with our problem. Misery loves company.

Solution Search - Any of us, or Blogger, can find out if anybody has discovered a solution, or even a workaround, to a given problem.

This will be good for everybody. We will know almost instantly when a solution is found, and we can discuss its effects.

Solution Report - Blogger can report a solution, more effectively, if one is found. Whether they report a solution to a specific "bx-" code in each individual thread, or in a pinned post, or in Blogger Status, using the code can easily identify its relevance to anybody suffering from that problem.

This will be good for everybody. We will know almost instantly when a solution is found, and we can test and report its effect methodically.

I'll discuss the overall benefits of these codes in my next article in this series.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

My Migration Has Ended

The American author Thomas Wolfe said
You can’t go home again
Well, you can't go back to Old Template 2006 Blogger, either.

Move your account to use the new Blogger
Not a lot of choice there. OK, I'm going.


The last time I'll see this.




The last time I'll see this.


Several tense moments later, the email popped up on my screen.
Welcome to the new Blogger.



The last time I'll see this.


But how to log back in? Not from the old shortcut, I see.


The last time I'll see this.


DOHH. Just load the blog, now, and use the link on the Navbar.





So now, the real work begins. All the shiny features. Where to start??



The Migration Has Ended

It's not just a migration, it's now a stampede. The option disappeared today, leaving in its place
Move your account to use the new Blogger

No "Please", no "Soon".

So how did I get here, to post this?

Well, there are two possible web site addresses. Use the one, wisely.

Nope, there's only going forward, now. I have to update all of my newly migrated blogs with the shiny New Blogger template features, when I'm not busy helping with the stampede, that is.

(Edit 1/26 13:00): Here is the first and only acknowledgment, to date, by Blogger.
We are beginning to require a portion of Blogger accounts to switch to the new version of Blogger. This is necessary in order for us to soon be able to retire the old version of Blogger. The first time you see this message, you will have the option to skip it and access your blog on the old system, but after that you will be required to switch.


(Edit 1/26 15:00): Publicly published instructions, in Blogger Help Group: How Do I? Moving Over to the New Version of Blogger advises us
Starting today, a small percentage of users who log in to an old Blogger account will be required to move to the new version.
and goes on to
If you're one of the lucky folks who is prompted to move your account over to the new version of Blogger, you'll be able to postpone this process once (and only once) if you *really* need to get a post out of your head or want to say goodbye to the old Blogger.
but offers no advice how to postpone the process.

Further below, the generous, and vague, instruction
Lastly, if you find yourself continuing to experience difficulties accessing your blogs (AFTER looking for help on your own), I encourage you to write in to The Blogger Team.
But how? Details, details...

Not a user friendly instruction, overall. It reminds one of the exercise of due diligence, and no more.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Blogger Status - What A Name

I don't know what to say about the name Blogger Status - except that it must have been named that way on purpose. Or did it become that way because of the acronym? The chicken, or the egg? Who will ever know?

I've been writing about Blogger Status for months. One of the problems with Blogger is The Silence. And The Silence never goes away.

This is merely the episode of January 23, 2007.

It would appear that some Blogger employees are at the beach this week. So the server outage of January 22never even made it onto Blogger Status.

(Edit 1/24 12:30):

Bet you saw this a bit too?


Not even a day up. What we see is
Blogger is undergoing unscheduled maintenance this morning. We hope to resume service shortly.

and when it finally comes up, the BS Message of the day
New Blogger has had troubles this morning, which you may have seen with slow requests and 502 error pages.
No shit, Sherlock.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Blog Blocked - But By Who?

We see various problem reports in Blogger Help Group.
  • My blog is gone.
  • My blog is half gone.
  • My blog is not found.
  • I'm being told that I'm not supposed to see my blog.
  • There's nothing there.
All of these complaints may, or may not, come from any of several problems.


Active Filtering
You may try to view your blog (or maybe go to Blogger, to setup your blog), and get
403 Forbidden
This is, most likely, a Blogger problem (or a problem with your host, if your blog is hosted outside Blogger).

You could get something like "403 Forbidden". It may say "Bad customer! Naughty!", or something similar. Some ISPs, possibly influenced by political pressure, are filtering some websites, or all of Blog*Spot.

There are two ways of filtering Internet traffic. Each have different technologies, and different results.
  1. Active filtering.
  2. Passive filtering.


Active filtering is what you probably think of, when we mention filtering. Your computer asks for a given web page. A router, somewhere between the computer and the web page server, looks at the IP address or URL, and decides whether this web page is on the no-no list or not.

If the web page in question is on the list ("Bad customer! Naughty!"), you may get a screen saying "You aren't permitted here", or similar, or it may simply drop the request. Your browser may eventually decide that you're not getting anything back, and may eventually display "Server not found", or it may simply display a white screen. No guarantees here.

If the web page isn't on the list, it passes the request to the web server, and eventually, you get your web page.

Simple.

Not.

The problem with active filtering is that all web page requests have to wait for validation. Each web page request (millions / second) coming through a given router has to be checked against a long list of no-no websites, before being passed onwards (or not). Can you say "latency"?

In order to do active filtering, an ISP has to have some very beefy routers. Screening each web page request is pretty complex. Lots of complaints from angry customers too.

Passive Filtering
So some ISPs use passive filtering. The routers don't bother with checking a request when it's first received - they just pass the request on to the destination. Then they pass a log record to the logging computers.

While the request is traveling to its destination, a logging computer checks the request against the no-no list. Also, logging computers examine incoming traffic, from distant servers, and look for naughty content.

If the request is on the list, or if naughty content is detected, (Bad customer! Naughty!), logging computers just send out a series of messages in two directions.
  • To the destination server, a message from the originating computer saying "Forget about it".
  • To the originating computer, a similar message from the destination server saying "Forget about it".
This is known technically as a "Reset" or "RST" message. A computer getting an RST simply drops that conversation. The browser on the client computer displays a white screen (what else could you do?), and goes about its business.

Passive filtering is much easier to run. All that the routers have to do is pass the traffic log to another computer, as usual. All ISPs watch what traffic they are passing. Just have logging computers that do more than report the traffic, they actively interfere with it.

So both active and passive filtering can generate a white screen. There are other possible reasons for the white screen, too.

Local Filtering
Maybe you (or the owner of the network that you're using) has decided that certain websites are a problem. There are several types of local filtering that can be used, and they, too, can present you with either a "Bad customer! Naughty!" message, or a white screen.

Network Problems
Besides intentional filtering, by your ISP or by your local network, you can also have conversation drops caused by network problems. Either a DNS problem, or an MTU setting problem, can cause the white screen. See my tutorial Identifying A DNS Problem In Your Internet Service for information.

Diagnosing The Problem
If you think that your website is subject to filtering by the Great Firewall, you can check by using a computer in China, provided by GreatFirewallOfChina.Org. You can read about the GreatFirewallOfChina.Org in their FAQ.

I tested the GreatFirewallOfChina.Org Test, against several websites. The results were predictable.

More Information

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Blogger Issuing Diagnostic Codes

Exciting news here. It appears that Blogger, in an effort to make it possible to handle the ever increasing problem level, is now issuing problem codes, rather than diagnostic messages, when specific problems are experienced.

The old familiar, monolithic
We apologize for the inconvenience, but we are unable to process your request at this time. Our engineers have been notified of this problem and will work to resolve it.

appears to have been replaced by some very unique error codes. Some are even explained, ever so slightly.
The character string
bX-
is nicely searchable, and should be easy to monitor in Blogger Help Group.

The best advice, when getting these mysterious codes, is as before the codes started appearing.There is one major difference now. When you join the crowd, you can do a quick search on your particular code. Here's an example - bX-bhcxwr is fairly popular right now. Maybe somebody in one of those threads has an idea of a fix, or at least appropriate diagnostics that might head in the direction of a fix.

Use the power of peer support. And if this helps you, be sure to report your success.

Most likely, the more people that report each error code, the quicker that it can be resolved. However, we'll still have to help ourselves - this is simply an aid to help us to help ourselves.

I'll discuss these codes, and their possible uses, in my next article in this series. And then their overall benefits, in a third article.

(Edit 1/5):
It looks like we are now seeing full blown 6 character alphanumeric codes (36 ** 6 possible combinations now). Earlier we saw alphabetic codes only (giving 26 ** 6 possible combinations). Have they added codes for more failure points, just recently? Or are these previously existing failure points, that have coincidentally just become active? Only time will tell.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Blogger Maintenance January 9 Morning

In Blogger Help Group: Scheduled Blogger Outage Tuesday, January 9th, 2007, Helper warns us
Just wanted to give you all a heads-up that the old Blogger will be down for a couple hours tomorrow (Tuesday, January 9th, 2007). This scheduled outage applies to the old Blogger from 7:45am-9:45am PST. You will not be able to post to old Blogger blogs or access any old Blogger blogs on Blog*Spot during this time. We also will not be allowing any new accounts or new blogs to be created on the new Blogger during this outage. Google Groups will be also be undergoing planned maintenance on Tuesday the 9th. Accordingly, some features may be temporarily unavailable (including the Blogger Help Group).

Old Blogger, New Blogger, and Blogger Help Group all down at the same time. Might be a good day to take off.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Custom Domain Names Hosted By Blogger

Until this week, if you wanted to have a Blogger blog, you had two choices - host the blog on Blog*Spot (as a subdomain of Blog*Spot.com), or host it offsite (with your choice of domain).

Now, there's a third choice - have a blog hosted by Blog*Spot, but with the domain name of your choice. All of the features of New Blogger, under your custom domain name. But beware, this is yet another Beta product (if not by name, by nature), and various problems have been identified, to date.